Pierce Pioneer

Autism Awareness

A Pioneer writer shares his personal experiences with Asperger’s Syndrome.

April is Autism Awareness Month, with World Autism Day falling on the 2nd. Autism is a group of developmental and neurological disorders characterized by difficulty in social interaction and communication skills in general, as well as high probabilities of repetitive behavior and thoughts. 

Autism is a spectrum: some people may have severe symptoms which may present as non-verbal and limited function and may require constant care. Others, like myself, can function independently, but still have difficulties with social skills and sensory issues.

According to the CDC, 1 in 59 American children are diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. The mission of Autism Awareness Month and World Autism Day is to help more and more people learn about and understand autism as well as help with the acceptance of those with an ASD.

I have a type of high-functioning Autism called Asperger’s Syndrome. I am able to function independently and fairly successfully in the “real world”, but all my life I have experienced difficulties with social skills and sensory issues.

I have a sincere desire to make friends and have personal relationships. However, I have trouble navigating social situations. Sometimes, I will say the wrong thing, or something I don’t necessarily mean. I have trouble making eye contact or speaking up when I’m uncomfortable and have difficulties gauging and connecting with the emotional needs and responses of others.

However, while there are courses of treatment and practices that can help me control and increasingly limit the symptoms and the negative effects of Autism, there is currently no cure. Autism has affected me for most of my life and will most likely continue to do so.

My journey started around the age of three. I had started performing repetitive motions (aka ‘Stimming’), like hand-flapping, jumping around, and even talking to myself. I still Stim to an extent nowadays, but I’m able to control it at school and in public. But when I come home, I have to find ways to release built-up energy and sensory overload.

In early elementary school, along with social skills, I had difficulty writing my thoughts down on paper, which created difficulties for me in school. I had a 504 plan that allowed me accommodations and services at school. I would sometimes be taken out of class to go to workshops that helped me learn how to write and type. I also went to speech therapy, and had six years of occupational and physical therapy after school. These were resources that helped me overcome the challenges my Asperger’s was presenting me in school.

I was taken off my 504 plan during middle school, and became more independent in my studies through high school, especially after enrolling in Running Start here at Pierce College Fort Steilacoom back in 2018. I also received my driver’s license when I was sixteen.

I’m excited for the next stage of my life – going off to a four-year university. However, one of my main concerns is being around people who may not have had any understanding of autism, and how I may be perceived by others.

I have struggled to make friends and maintain friendships because I have a hard time connecting. I want to do better when I attend a four-year, and beyond that, along with my family wishing the same thing.

I’m thankful that I’ve never really been bullied or harassed, but I realize there are many people who don’t understand me, and I get that. I struggle with understanding other people, too.

So, while Autism Awareness Month helps people understand those like me with Autism, I am working on my own skills and struggles with socializing and connecting to the world. I joined the Pioneer last fall, and the challenge of the job is helping me with interactions, and even with eye contact when I am interviewing people.

As I learn to navigate in the “real world,” I’m thankful for the people who have helped me. I hope I can meet more great people as I go along in my life.

My autism doesn’t define me, but it’s part of who I am. I hope this article helps people understand Autism better. As well as reading this article, may you consider taking the time to try and connect with an autistic person such as myself, setting aside your differences and finding connections.

For more information, go to autismawarenessmonth.org, autism-society.org, or follow #celebratedifferences on social media.

A Competitor by Nature

Desirae Garcia / Staff Photo

The inspiring journey of Jordan Dowd, scholarship recipient and family-made soccer player

Jordan Dowd, 18, scored goals on the soccer field ever since he was three. He’s been through many exhausting practices and adrenaline-pumping games. However, soccer wasn’t just a game; it was a way of life that his mother instilled in him. 

Dowd’s mother began teaching him the fundamentals of soccer, helping him surpass his limits and inspiring him to reach his full potential. Then last summer, he reaped the benefits of his hard work when he received a partial scholarship to play soccer at Pierce College.

After receiving the scholarship, Dowd realized how dedicated he was and the effort it took to get there. Playing for Pierce only confirmed that his passion for soccer can go so much further. “It’s really cool to see it pay off during the season in our games and practices. It’s something that I want to keep doing even in life after Pierce or after college.”

Though Dowd was born in a small fishing community in Gig Harbor, he was more adept at defending the goal than he was at trailing bait. As an infant, Dowd was strapped to his mother and lulled to sleep by the sound of cheering fans and blaring horns. 

His mother, a high school girls soccer coach, played the sport for a couple of years in high school, but she still had the determination of a professional. She coached Dowd’s recreational team when he was in elementary school, during which he remembers his mother telling him to put his best foot forward; otherwise he’s only cheating himself. “I feel like my mom was pretty hard on [our recreational team], in a good way, because she knew our potential and wanted to get the best out of us,” he said.

Dowd shared the same passion as his mother, chasing his own dreams in soccer. As his love for the sport grew, so did his competitiveness. He signed up for a local team, Harbor Premier, making friends, perfecting his craft and creating memories that will forever remind him of why he plays. 

During Dowd’s freshman year of high school, he switched teams, which allowed him to get out of his comfort zone and get mentored by professionals. He chose Washington Premier Football Club, which had coaches with years of experience either playing professionally or for a club post-college. That was exactly what he was looking for someone who can help him grow his zeal for the sport.

Traveling all over the nation and playing teams of various levels, sometimes playing one to three times a week can seem like an arduous journey, but Dowd said his love for the game kept him going. Dowd said that he loves to showcase how much he’s invested and how passionate he is for the game. “I feel like it’s an opportunity to express who I am, who I want to be, and just show my love for the sport and show off all the hard work that I put into it.”

As much as Dowd loves the game of soccer, he said the connections he makes with his teammates on the field are more valuable. “You work with the same guys day in and day out, and you really have each other’s back on the field; you have a great love for the sport, and you share the passion with each other. That’s something that’s carried on with me from elementary school now to college.” 

Not only is Dowd passionate about his love of the game, but he also wants to write about it professionally. He’s now pursuing a sports journalism degree at Pierce College and playing on their team. He said he’s happy how it all worked out for now, and he plans to continue his soccer career at a four-year university such as Whitworth University, Gonzaga University or an institute in California.

As much as he loves to play the game, he wanted to follow a path that allows him to capture his love for sports and creative storytelling. “My career goals after Pierce is something related to journalism on the sports side of things or politics,” Dowd said. “I loved sports ever since I could remember, and I guess I’m decent at writing, so I thought I’d put those two together.”  

Dowd said becoming a professional soccer player feels like a pipe dream, but if he got the chance, he would take advantage of it. “I’ve definitely thought about [playing soccer professionally] all my life. Sure after college, if the opportunity is there, I’d take it.” 

He hopes to inspire the next generation to pursue soccer professionally. “I dream to continue soccer, continue the game and to pass it on to friends and family and my future kids.”

Toxins in Pierce College’s Backyard

Jesus Contreras / Staff Photographer
Waterfowl release nitrogen and phosphorus into the lake after eating, contributing to the algae. (Feeding the ducks is against the rules.

Waughop Lake and the toxic algae residing within

Down the hill from Pierce College Fort Steilacoom is Waughop Lake, a small body of water on the edge of the forest in Fort Steilacoom Park. The lake is surrounded by a trail where people can walk their dogs, ride a bike, or go for a quick jog. However, while the trail itself is peaceful, the lake says otherwise, as it’s home to numerous toxic algae blooms.

A neurotoxin in the lake causes a potentially lethal nerve disease in mammals; if ingested, it can cause paralysis. According to the Suburban Times, no humans have died from exposure to the toxic algae blooms, but several dogs have died after swimming in the lake.

In 2019, the City of Lakewood implemented a clean-up strategy that would remove phosphorus from the lake using Aluminum Sulfate (“alum”). However, Earth and Ocean Sciences professor, Michele LaFontaine, who did her Master’s Thesis on Lake Waughop, is against this plan. 

“It’s kind of like a Band-Aid solution,” LaFontaine said. “It fixes the condition right now, but the problem is that a lot of the chemicals are in the sediments in the lake. So what the alum treatment does is clean up the toxins that are in the water. So then the water’s clean, but then more of the toxins come out of the sediment. So you’re treating the symptoms, not the actual cause.”

Due to the potential threat of paralysis, people should avoid going into the lake. According to LaFontaine, the toxins do not affect the fish, turtles, or birds who live in and around the lake, such as the yellow perch or the largemouth bass. However, if a human or other mammal eats the fish, the toxin will affect them.

LaFontaine said a major contributor to the algae bloom was a farm previously owned by Western State Hospital. “They used to dump all kinds of garbage and debris into the lake,” LaFontaine said.

The pollution in the lake caused Waughop to go from 30 to 12 feet deep. It is also blocking a natural spring that used to feed water into the lake. Since the lake does not connect to any other body of water, the algae stay in the lake, continuing to grow.

Elysia Mbuja, Fort Steilacoom’s Biology Department Coordinator, said that the lake has an overload of nitrogen and phosphorus, which feeds the algae. “That is partly because of the waterfowl that are being fed, but mainly because there’s no inlet or outlet of the lake, so it’s dependent entirely on the water cycle,” Mbuja said. “So, when the water evaporates, the nutrients become concentrated, and that feeds the algae that grow in the lake.”

While Lakewood’s solution for the lake involves using alum, LaFontaine would rather the city go for a different method. “I think the only real solution is to dredge the sediments out of the lake and get that mucky stuff with all the excess nutrients and toxins out.” LaFontaine adds that while this is expensive, it would be a more long-term solution.

The area around Waughop Lake has since faced problems created by these toxins. Partly due to the pollution and algae altering the ecosystem, native species aren’t able to thrive. Meanwhile, the current environment is favoring invasive, non-native species, such as Scotch Broom and Himalayan Blackberries.

Pierce College, along with Fort Steilacoom Park, is working on the Garry Oak Restoration Project. The project works in the land behind Pierce College to remove the invasive species and replant native species like Garry Oaks. 

Garry Oaks, known as Oregon White Oaks, are the only oak tree native to the Pacific Northwest. It is an acorn-bearing tree with brownish-gray bark and dark green leaves. Garry Oak woodlands in Washington and British Columbia provide food and habitat for numerous species that are rare in these areas.

“We’re really fortunate to have the park and the lake right next to the college that we can study and be part of the cleanup efforts. Because it’s our neighborhood, and we need to take care of it,” says LaFontaine

For more information on the Garry Oak Restoration Project, or about the lake itself, Mbuja and LaFontaine can be contacted on Pierce College Fort Steilacoom’s campus, or via email.

Is Everyone Accounted For?

Brianna Wu / Staff Illustrator

A deep dive of the 2020 Census and its potential impact on state funding

Many students of diverse backgrounds face challenges in various aspects of their life. For some, the quality of education can be a critical factor to securing success in their future careers. It can be difficult to find transportation to school resulting in being late or missing a class altogether. Textbooks could be outdated and in need of being replaced with new information. As rent increases, some students even face homelessness on top of balancing work and school.

It’s important to know what society struggles with. Every voice matters. That’s why the actions we take are significant, like participating in the 2020 Census. 

The census is an official count of the population for those who live in the United States, U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia. It counts how many people live in the same household as well as including those who are homeless. Workers of the census who gather this information are called census takers. They visit shelters, soup kitchens, and tented communities to gather answers from those who do not have a place to live.

The answers received from taking the census help legislation decide on where the federal funds will go. Certain areas contain a specific demographic. For example, a lot of college students may populate a large portion of one area or there are a lot of elderly who live in one particular place. These areas could be targeted to add more resources that are specifically tailored to that demographic. 

The structure of states and communities will be affected for the next decade. Billions of dollars will be distributed among our cities infrastructures, education, health care, housing programs, child care, and other services that affect our lifestyle.

For families who struggle to find affordable access to health care or who have the responsibility for children, these all can negatively impact one’s education. When all of these issues become too big to handle, it’s easy for students to give in to the outside pressure. The responses to the census can improve educational resources, public transportation, and on-campus housing. We can alleviate these problems by being accounted for as students in our population through the census.

People of color tend to suffer most from the harmful effects of being undercounted. This tends to happen due to language barriers, a person’s citizenship being questioned, and not having the funds to reach rural areas. Another reason is by moving the census online. Not everyone has access to the internet in their household. The only way to participate is through online, by phone, or by mail. However, Libraries can provide easy access to taking the census online, if anyone is unable to do otherwise.

Brianna Wu / Staff Illustrator

The struggles that ethnic groups face in their communities would only grow worse if undercounting continues to be a problem. Funds would be pulled from support programs like food stamps, education, and housing. Some students rely on similar programs to assist their families and to get by in an expensive economy that continuously raises the cost of living.

Pierce College student Marko O’Kelley relies on educational programs such as tutoring services, Financial Aid, and the College Bound program to achieve his educational goal. He plans to transfer to a four-year university once he’s done at Pierce.

“Financial aid is a good resource because I am currently living with my mom who is a single mother and she is struggling financially, so that means I also need to help her out financially with like, the rent or other things in the house that need to be helped with,” O’Kelley said.

O’Kelley is an advocate for the Hilltop Scholars Program, he hopes the funds will go towards similar programs within a huge community of youth for the next 10 years. “I feel like our youth are, and probably is, the gateway to a better future,” he said. “A lot of youth within a community or city would be inspired to do more because of gifts and talents that they have but hide because of the community that they live in.”

The long term effects of not participating in the census could result in a shortage of funds toward important sources for an increasing population. There may not be enough hospitals to take care of sickly patients, not enough schools for young children, and not enough houses for new families. Funds going toward care for the elderly, people who are disabled, and those living in poverty would not be accommodating to the number of people in these categories for the next 10 years. These resources may not be there in the future.

The importance of raising awareness about the census stems from the fact that not every voice is being heard. A rise in public awareness is needed for everyone to get well-informed and participate in the census. There is a potential risk that distributed funds will not have a strong focus as it should be in areas that need help. The demographics of students, especially for students of color, in regard to services provided by the community, would be negatively impacted for an entire decade. That is why every person counts.

The U.S. Census Bureau is responsible for sending out surveys by April 1. As it is part of the Constitution (Article 1, Section 2), everyone is required to participate by law every 10 years. The survey inquires about who you identify as and the relationship to others in the house, along with asking what place of residency you are for your home. According to Title 13 U.S. Code § 221, people can be fined up to $500 for not responding to the census completely. Census workers could show up at your door or call by phone to follow up. 

The amount of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives is determined by the population of people who currently occupy the state. The representatives create laws that affect the population. The amount of power in representation for specific groups will go down if not everyone is accounted for.

The census is an essential part of how well our government can take care of the community for the duration of 10 years. The actions we take now not only affect us, but future generations. It’s our civic duty to make sure we participate in the census.

Resolving Your Concerns

Abri Wilson / Staff Illustrator

In light of the Harvey Weinstein trials, learn what you can do if you feel unsafe on Campus

Films such as Scream, Pulp Fiction, Django Unchained, and Shakespeare in Love are just a few of the movies that represent the filmworks of an Academy, Tony, and Golden Globe Award winner that was once seen as Hollywood’s most powerful film producer.

Seeing Harvey Weinstein now, one wouldn’t guess they were looking at the person who once represented the kind of fame and success all producers strived to reach. However, since October of 2017, more than eighty women have made allegations of sexual abuse from Harvey Weinstein. 

Soon, he will be facing five felony charges in court. A court date that was once set for early September of 2018 has now been moved to January 2020, as a result of a new emerging indictment from actress Annabella Sciorra. 

In light of these sexual abuse allegations, new movements such as #MeToo have emerged, encouraging women to speak out against their abusers.  The emergence of #MeToo shows just how many people from all different kinds of  communities suffer from abuse. In places such as school and work, women may be in unsafe situations where they are unsure of who to go to for help.

Fortunately, Pierce College offers many resources in helping people who feel uncomfortable in school, the workplace, and at home. Holly Gorski, District Coordinator for Title IX and Vice President for Human Resources, is an important contact in supporting students who need help on campus. 

Title IX was created to ensure that nobody feels discriminated against, taken advantage of, or left out based on their gender. Gorski said, “We are really here to be supportive and help students who have these concerns that fall under the big umbrella of Title IX.” 

“I want to encourage people to resolve issues at the lowest level. If you feel like you can talk to someone about something that is happening, please do that, I think that can be really effective.” 

Of course, it also depends on the situation. If you’re trying to resolve an issue yourself when  communication isn’t an option, there is plenty of help and support offered through different resources at Pierce.

One place that may not be known to many students is pierce.ctc.edu/complaint-process. This site offers a place for students to go if they have any kind of issue on campus they wish to report, but aren’t sure where to go for help. “We are connecting students with resources, trying to get them to the places they need,” as Gorski said.

A report of concern can be in regards to themselves or a friend. This can be accessibility accommodations, a student conduct violation, an accident, or just a general complaint that doesn’t seem to fit into any of these specific categories. 

In addition, by searching “Pierce College Get Help” [pierce.ctc.edu/help], individuals are offered a complete page of resources offered to students looking for assistance in places such as food, transportation, health, legal support, transportation, and more. This can serve in providing help and support to someone who needs it, but doesn’t know where to look.

Allison Stewart, a student at Pierce College, said, “The first step in helping people on campus is to advertise that they actually have programs.” Stewart pointed out that she has never seen anything advertised regarding student support on campus. More effective support can be given if these resources are further publicized to the general school population.

While students are able to report a concern anonymously, the most fulfilling assistance can be given in cases with the most information provided. “Sometimes students come to me with concerns and they don’t want the college to do anything or they don’t want the college to use their name, and I provide support to those students,” said Gorski. “But if I have someone telling me not to do anything, then whatever help I can provide to help resolve the situation is really limited.”

It is understandable that giving school officials details of a sensitive situation could make a student nervous, but staff members can aid students and connect them with more help if they get all the information they need.

Jasmine Ford, a student at Pierce, said that one method that might help offer help to individuals is to have an anonymous hotline available. While Pierce doesn’t have it’s own emergency line to call, there are plenty of numbers in the Pierce County area that are available 7 days a week. Many of these are listed on Pierce College’s ‘Crisis Resource Page.’ [pierce.ctc.edu/counseling-crisis-situation]

Many of these resources at schools have become more prominent as a result of the #MeToo movement following the Harvey Weinstein trials. Stewart said, “It creates a forum for people to say ‘I believe you’ and ‘This happened to me too’ and makes you feel like you’re a part of something.”

Goodbye 2010s, Hello 2020.

nidan / Pixabay / Courtesy Photo

A Look Back at the Highlights of the Decade.

The beginning of a new decade is almost upon us. With 2020 bringing many new changes, it gives us a chance to look back at some highlights the past decade has brought. From new trends to new technology and innovations in society, the 2010s have brought many advancements.

Damian Dovarganes / AP / Courtesy Photo, Lorie Shaull / Wikimedia Commons / Courtesy Photo, Evhenia Arbugaeva / TIME / Courtesy Photo



In the past 10 years, many new movements have emerged amongst newer generations, especially in relation to climate change. Climate change has been a growing topic in recent years, as a result of scientists doing more research about how this will affect future generations. People such as Greta Thunberg are at the forefront of this movement. Thunberg has been a leading example of environmental activism since the age of 15. She has been working toward advancing awareness of climate change, as well as encouraging people to make lifestyle changes to help the environment.

Gun Control

Other notable emerging movements are protests regarding gun control in light of school shootings, with high school students taking the front of this action. These protests have been growing for years, beginning with the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting of 2012. However, this movement grew exponentially after the 2018 Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Florida. This increase of mass shootings in the United States has brought up issues regarding who has access to these guns, as well as sparked a debate about mental health treatment.


In the past 10 years, many new movements have emerged amongst newer generations, especially in relation to climate change. Climate change has been a growing topic in recent years, as a result of scientists doing more research about how this will affect future generations. People such as Greta Thunberg are at the forefront of this movement. Thunberg has been a leading example of environmental activism since the age of 15. She has been working toward advancing awareness of climate change, as well as encouraging people to make lifestyle changes to help the environment.

Atsuko Sato / Courtesy Photo


The 2010s brought many online changes. This included new memes trending on social media. Before 2010, the concept of a meme was almost nonexistent, and now there are new ones everyday with people adding funny text and edits to each one.  These memes have definitely evolved over the decade as well. For example, if you had gone online in 2012, you most likely would have seen a singular picture of a person or animal making a face at the camera. This picture would have big blocky text under it, saying something that could relate to the viewer. However, memes have become more complex over the years, with the sense of humor changing. Now, you might find multiple photos edited together with different text on each one, in order to show the relation between the people in the photo going through relatable scenarios.

Blomst / Pixabay / Courtesy Photo


Hybrid and Electric Cars

Along with the call to environmental change, hybrid and electric cars have been increasing in use in the past 10 years more than ever before. The fact that hybrid cars do not release as many greenhouse gas emissions as a typical car makes people steer toward the option of these kinds of vehicles. The use of these non-polluting vehicles especially rings true in Tesla, which specializes in manufacturing electric cars. With Tesla selling cars that purely run on electrical sources, rather than gas, it is easy for people to be drawn towards this option, rather than paying for gas weekly.

Online Shopping

While online shopping has grown exponentially in the past decade, Amazon is the front of many people’s online needs. With Amazon Prime offering free shipping, and student discounts, it is the first place many people turn to when they need something quickly. In fact, according to Forbes, “Amazon shipped more than 5 billion items in 2017 with Prime worldwide.” Many companies are closing their brick and mortar stores and focusing on expanding their online presence as a result of the physical store not bringing in as much income as online.

Sharijo / Pixabay / Courtesy Illustration


Bring back the 1980s! Those who grew up in the 80s may recognize some of the styles in the past few years. Throughout the 2010s, fashion from the 1980s has been making a comeback. This includes the “vintage look” of baggy jeans, or “mom” jeans, bulky white sneakers, such as Filas, Nikes Cortez, or Adidas Superstars. Also, many wear colorful windbreakers, denim jackets, and Doc Martens.

While 2010-2019 have brought many new changes and introduced many new forms ideas, 2020 brings a mass of opportunities to look forward to. For example, the presidential election, and summer olympics, taking place in Tokyo, are just two new things that this new year will bring.

VR Headsets to Potentially Be Used in Classrooms

Pierce College Fort Steilacoom has purchased a small set of VR headsets and is looking for student participants.

The way classrooms incorporate gaming into their courses has been subtle yet effective, so far. Games like Kahoot, an online trivia game, have students scrambling to play during class. Even simple games, such as an educational styled jeopardy on the whiteboard, manage to entice students to engage, both with technology and their classmates.

Video games have influenced the way classrooms are conducted since their creation. New devices are announced annually at conventions such as E3, and this rapidly growing market is beginning to push schools into improving their own technology. Schools are now finding ways to adapt to this ever growing climate.

Pierce College Fort Steilacoom is currently looking to test out virtual reality headsets that have the potential of being incorporated in classrooms such as for STEM and the design programs. Kyle Pierson, an educational technology specialist for the Center for Engagement and Learning, says that Pierce is still trying to formulate plans on how they can be incorporated into classrooms.

“We wanted to introduce new tools to be used in the classroom,” said Pierson. “VRs are an ever expanding and growing field that’s used in K-12, and it’s getting into higher education more frequently – more in the last couple years.”

The Employee Learning and Engagement department has purchased four headsets for the campus and are looking for students willing to test them. With vested interest and time for a trial run, this could bring a whole batch of headsets to certain classrooms in the future. This will be an ongoing experiment at Pierce, as ELAD continues to organize the logistics of it.

VR headsets used for learning is not an unfamiliar concept, but this idea is a fairly recent one for Pierce. While specific classes have not been chosen to use VR headsets, STEM and design programs seem to be the main target audience. Pierson explains how he believes VR can be applied to STEM courses in particular. 

“There’s a lot of stuff about human anatomy, chemistry, space, exploring the ocean, geology – The sciences are pretty easy to apply the headsets to because of all the apps that are already out there, which dive into all these different things that can be used in a classroom.”

People would probably initially not be as comfortable because people have this stigma that that’s not hands on experience. You’re not using things in the material world, you’re not playing with a model. Instead you’re playing with a digital model. So people might feel that you have the skills to it theoretically, but not practically.”

— Justin Hawes, a student at Pierce who’s currently pursuing psychiatry

STEM program students could see a benefit in learning with such technology. Justin Hawes, a student at Pierce who’s currently pursuing psychiatry, shared his thoughts on the usage of VR headsets for the program. “I think that it would be valuable to use VR with things that can be potentially dangerous,” he said.

Hawes explained how VR headsets could reduce in-class risk of injury or harm in places such as science labs, which typically require hands-on approaches. Rather than dealing with dangerous materials physically, it’s possible the risk can be removed by doing so digitally.

While STEM would be using the headsets in ways that allow them to simulate learning scenarios, classes such as design could use them for creating. Instructors such as Leigh Rooney, assistant professor for digital design, have been attempting to garner interest from students.

“I’m thinking of how you can create virtual reality environments,” said Rooney. “There’s also some virtual reality applications or software that you can paint in 3D in VR, which I think is a really cool way to think about design.”

Earlier in October, Rooney sent emails to her students, creating a virtual sign up sheet for the trial run. Rooney believes that the usage of VR headsets can be an exciting and brand new learning tool that Pierce does for future classrooms.

Instructors on campus are seeing the benefit of using headsets for in class learning. But as ELAD continues to work out more of the details on the matter, certain concerns have been mentioned by students, one of them being the cost.

VR headsets within the gaming community may be seen as a gimmick; a fad that has slowly begun losing its steam over the years. And with the cost of headsets ranging between $100 – $400 on average, Pierce could be spending thousands to supply a single classroom of 30 at the risk of it being wasted.

Once a class is supplied, maintaining student’s interest in using the headsets would be the biggest challenge. VR has been around for years and arguably peaked between the years of 2012 to 2016. Nathan Jefferey, a business student at Pierce, wonders himself how exactly Pierce plans to get students to engage with such devices. 

“I don’t think it’ll be like a necessity,” he said. “A lot of students, especially older ones, I don’t think are really going to care for VR headsets.

“Some people already feel like they’re kind of goofy to wear. Even gamers are kind of like, ‘I don’t want to put that thing on’, so I can only imagine someone who’s 30, 40, or 50 years old being asked to wear a VR set.”

Cost and interest aside, other concerns such as hygiene have also been mentioned. “I’m worried about hygienics in general,” said Hawes. “I think that if people are constantly swapping them, how are they going to be handled in that regard?”

Hawes also mentions that others on campus might also be skeptical of the changes that could come from switching to VR. “People are very apprehensive to change,” he said. “I think that because it’s a little different I might be a little wary of getting into it.

“People would probably initially not be as comfortable because people have this stigma that that’s not hands on experience. You’re not using things in the material world, you’re not playing with a model. Instead you’re playing with a digital model. So people might feel that you have the skills to it theoretically, but not practically.”

Despite his fears however, Hawes feels that a problem such as student’s adjustment could easily be mended with the right methods. If ELAD could find a way to have both digital and physical teaching methods conjoin and compliment one another, the usage of VR headsets could be invaluable.

Other concerns such as hygiene, also prove to be less of an issue than feared if handled properly. Most classes at Pierce range around 50 minutes, with many STEM and Design coming close to two hours. On average, students might spend half an hour using the headsets, allowing time for them to be cleaned and properly handled like any other lab equipment.

While these concerns exist, the interest it creates is the main reason that the headsets are going through a trial run on campus. The idea is still young, but discussing both the potential costs and benefits is exactly what ELAD wants.

Pierson spoke on the importance of gathering awareness for the project, as more students interested means for better testing results. Students interested in signing up or learning more about it can do so with eLearning located in CAS 322, as they’re still accepting participants.

4 Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint on a Budget

Being environmentally cautious can be pricey, but fortunately there are a few ways that you can help

The health and wellbeing of the planet is a current hot topic that has people asking what they can do to make a difference. But if you’re on a budget, doing this can be difficult. Below is a list of four things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint. Just doing one of these can make an environmental difference.

Recycling and Reusing

Recycling doesn’t make as big of a difference as people think, as it doesn’t do much for reducing waste. However, when you save and reuse objects, as well as give unwanted items a new life, then it makes a bigger difference than recycling does by itself. For example, objects such as jars and old shirts can be used for things like storing food or making shirts into a shopping bag and reusable makeup wipes.


Buy things used, doing this can save you money and save plastic products from making its way into landfills earlier than needed. Join groups like BuyNothing on Facebook and post your unneeded things for others to have and ask for thing you need. People tend to have things laying around that they don’t need and giving them to others save it from being thrown out.

Sharing / Renting

Share clothes, movies, games and other things with your friends and family, or even rent them. This way you can save money while also reducing the amount of plastic products you buy. You have a pair of shoes that just sit in your closet, let your friend that has a party to go to borrow them, now they are getting some use out for them and saving your friend from buying a new pair.

Buy Reusable Replacements

Save up to replace your one use plastic products, replace your razor with a safety razor and replace Saran Wrap with bees wax cloth and use solid soaps in place of bottled soap. Find ways to reduce your everyday plastic waste and after paying for a reusable produce you’ll eventually save money by not having to buy one use plastic products.

If you can not do some of these things do not beat yourself up for it, everyone has different circumstances that may contribute to not being able to meet their minimal waste goals. Even just supporting companies and elected officials that want to make a difference helps. Do what you can with what you have, future generations will thank you for it.

Abri Wilson / Staff Illustrator

This is No Ordinary Bird

Students looking for a chance to express their school spirit can do so by applying to be Pierce College’s mascot, the Raider.

Not everyone gets to view the world from inside a large, fake bird, but Pierce College mascots do just that.

Raider mascot Khuong “Finn” Ho, a recent Theatre and Performance Art graduate at Fort Steilacoom, flapped his wings and cheered on Pierce students for the past two years.

“I just love the whole idea of it,” says Ho. “It is an odd job, but it requires so much more than you’d think. It’s like being a superhero. No one knows who you are, yet people still know who you are. Also, I get the best spots to watch the games.”

The Athletic Department and Student Life Office are always looking for students to serve as the mascot, according to Duncan Stevenson, Pierce College Athletic Director.

“We’ll take anybody of any age and size,” says Stevenson. “What we’re looking for is the energy and the interest and enthusiasm to do it.”

Mascots often start as first-year students then stay for their second year, states Doug Carlson, Operations Manager of the Health Education Center on campus, who hires the mascots.

“We’ve actually had more short people than tall people in the costume,” says Carlson. “Almost everybody has been under 6 feet.”

This is a job with big shoes to fill. Mascot Ho was up to the challenge.

Marcom / Courtesy Photo, Abri Wilson / Staff Illustration

“Moving is easy, though with the big bird feet, stairs are challenging,” says Ho. “Sound wise, everything is quieter. Vision is surprisingly better than one would think.”

The mascots boost school spirit at indoor sports games – volleyball and basketball – and at Student Life events such as “Welcome Days”. In the past two years “the bird” has marched in the Daffodil Parade in Puyallup, according to Carlson.

“During games, the Raider bird dances and hangs out with the cheerleaders and tries to get the crowd going… pep up the crowd,” says Carlson.

Mascot Ho says he tries to embody the Raider by giving hugs and high fives. He also “flexes his muscle” to flesh out the mascot and add character.

“I love it when people are willing to suspend their disbelief and sort of ‘play along’ with the idea of the Raider bird,” says Ho. “It keeps the magic alive.”

Athletic Director Stevenson observes the mascot in action more than anyone.

“I’ve really enjoyed seeing the mascot interacting with little kids,” says Stevenson. “It can be a scary thing, but I think for the most part, they’re really enamored with being next to ‘the bird.’”

That’s what Stevenson calls the Raider mascot; he and “the bird” go way back.

“The college mascot, since its inception, has been ‘the Raider,’” explains Stevenson. “And this goes back to the late 1960s. But for 35 years, we really didn’t have an official mascot character, not even an emblem.”

When Stevenson started working at Pierce in 1987 one of his goals was to get something to be identified as “the Raider.” Students made several efforts through the 1990s to try to get something going, but the review process was so involved.

“Finally, in 2003 to 2004, I was able to get students to initiate a mascot challenge,” says Stevenson. “It was a design contest open to all students.”

They had around 15 submissions; everything from the bird we have now to a mustang, a raccoon, a variation on the Oakland Raiders, and other options, according to Stevenson.

Business student and baseball player Jason Stark won, says Stevenson. Stark had written a backstory on the Raider as a bird who preys on smaller animals and birds for its survival. It was like a falcon.

“’The bird’ was the one!” laughs Stevenson.

Construction underway for students in the medical field

Kotonai Ochiai / Staff Photographer
The first floor of the Cascade building currently houses the EMS, Veterinarian (on the right), and Dental hygiene (on the left) programs.

Space for students will be expanded and be

completed by Fall of 2021

Many students may know of Pierce College’s ever-growing dental hygiene, veterinary technology, and EMS programs. Students who are part of these departments are often seen walking around campus in their scrubs after a long day of class. These are three important departments that require lots of space and updated technology for students to be successful in their studies and workplace. 

To combat the growing population of people joining these programs, a new building on Pierce College’s Fort Steilacoom campus is in the early stages of planning. With a proposed completion date of Fall of 2021, this building will provide much more room for opportunities with the advanced technology it will provide.

Choi Halladay, vice president of administrative services at Pierce College, emphasizes the needs of students who are part of these programs, and how this construction will benefit them. “This will expand the amount of space that they have by a lot,” says Halladay. “It will make it all state of the art, and a space that represents the kinds of work environments that most of the students would actually go to work in.” 

In fact, for the veterinarian department, it’s not only the students who need the extra space. According to Salvador Hurtado, the Veterinary Technology Program Director, this expansion will provide an opportunity for different animals’ environment to be taken care of as well. 

As veterinary students, Hurtado states that it’s important to have access to animals that can be worked with. This need is something that this development will focus on. In addition to larger areas for animals to roam and exercise, there will also be external windows for them to see outside.

Jezreel Proo’ / Staff Illustration

Anyone part of an intensive educational program is likely to understand the importance of this simulated experience; it is necessary to be successful in whatever field one is going into. It’s also important to have enough room to work comfortably in, in contrast to a smaller space that restricts a student’s productivity. 

“This building will have more student-dedicated space,” adds Hurtado. “There will be more study areas, and places for students to hang out in. This way, there won’t be as much time spent walking from building to building to eat lunch or find a quiet place to work.”

As the construction of this building is still in the beginning stages, it’s too soon to determine any specific unique features. However, Halladay has a main idea of what staff are looking for in this new building. “We are trying to create layouts where it’s really efficient. Where an instructor can move from place to place and help a lot of different students doing different things simultaneously.” 

Halladay continues in saying that this way, students are able to multitask with working on a project, while getting the help they need from professors. Forming a space where students have this access is valuable as it gives everyone a chance to learn the most that they can, even while working outside the classroom.

Upon hearing about these new renovations, some students may be worried about how this may affect their time at Pierce in ways such as tuition and parking. However, Halladay assures that there will be no increases in tuition or fees as a result of the new building. Parking will not pose an issue once construction is complete. Halladay confirms that a few additional spots are likely to be added, but there should be an appropriate amount of spaces now for more students to park in.

This expansion of dental hygiene, EMS, and veterinary technology is something that students can look forward to in the future. With these new facilities, it will provide help with getting closer to their goals while at Pierce College.

Julie A. White and what it means to be involved

Kotone Ochiai / Staff Photographer
President White getting interviewed by Lizzy Rowe

Pierce College Fort Steilacoom president Julia A. White goes in depth on her life and what her goals and intents are for the students under her.

Pierce College centers its focus on providing educational opportunities through equity, inclusion and accessibility to all communities. Julie A. White, Ph.D and current Fort Steilacoom Pierce College president keeps those key components at the core of her work.

White was looking for the next step in her career and had her eye on Pierce for some years now. “Pierce is a national leader and trendsetter in the community college sector,” she adds. “When I saw this job opening was available, I was excited, and I got right on it.”

Growing up in a rural community in Indiana, White’s family had never been to college. Her father dropped out of high school in the 10th grade, and her grandfather couldn’t read or write. “Academics came easily to me, but I did feel adrift. It wasn’t something my family had experienced,” White disclosed. “They definitely supported me but didn’t know how to.”

In high school, White was encouraged by her English teacher and music instructors. They brought out her potential and helped her through tough times in life. “I experienced the power of literature and music to help me understand the human experience and connect my own emotions to the broader world. I wanted to bring that to others,” she states.

As a first-generation college student, White says not to let anyone limit you or define what you can accomplish. “There are so many people with stories like mine who have accomplished amazing things. Get to know those people because those are the people that can help bolster you.”

Julie White / Courtesy Photo

Equity is the accessibility of student opportunity and success with the individual needs of students at the heart. White says people with less opportunities or lack of resources create a separation and a less vibrant culture for all. “We have a lot of work to do in this country around historical racism, sexism and the conditions we see today are rooted in those histories. We can’t go back and change that, but we can address the current conditions.”

With the national presidential election underway, many candidates ran on a platform of reducing or eliminating student debt, particularly for community colleges. White states that college should be free to everyone because financially it’s a huge barrier that if removed gives more opportunities to students. 

“There would be funds for daily living expenses for students who work full time and part time.” She proposes this innovation so students can work less and focus more on their academics.

The Washington State Legislator has increased funding so more students can receive grants. There is no effective plan for the grants between federal and state financial aid regulations, but White is continually working with community college presidents on innovative projects. “We are creating a virtual hub of community resources that will help students identify their financial needs and services in the community,” White says.

White’s first steps in her new role is to listen and to learn. Having conversations with students, faculty and examining student success data will help her understand where the barriers lie and how they can improve them. 

When she is not in the office or at a community event, White enjoys yoga, hiking, biking and being outdoors. She is excited to experience the culture and beauty Washington has to offer. White also has a son and a daughter who are musicians and are enrolled in graduate school. “I think there are some helpful genes there, but they have worked really hard. I am very proud of them,” she states.  

White says you can expect to see her on campus attending student events, and she welcomes any new ideas students bring forth. “They should know I am out in the community talking about how great they are and trying to spread the word about Pierce so more students can take advantage of the opportunities that we have.”

Pierce went political on Civics Week

Veronica Lu / Staff Photo
Mari Leavitt (Left) and Christine Kilduff are two of the state representatives that came to speak at Civics Week.

On May 10, 2019, Student Life hosted the Civics Week closing ceremony. The event was created to raise political awareness for Pierce College students. The presentation featured speeches from State Representatives Christine Kilduff and Mari Leavitt.

Pierce College Legislative Senator Daniel Chowritmootoo, one of the people who helped bring this event to life, said: “Civics Week is about encouraging student engagement in our politics, both state and federal level.”

Pierce Legislative Senator Derrick Brigge asserted: “I think it is a great chance for students to have face to face interaction with their elected state representatives.”

One of the guest speakers at the ceremony was Christine Kilduff, the State Representative in 28th Legislative District. Kilduff has been serving since 2014. “We are politically diverse, we are more purple than blue or red,” said Kilduff.

Veronica Lu / Staff Photo
Khuong “Finn” Quoc Ho and Calvin Beekman ask Mari Leavitt how students can be more politically involved.

When asked about the goal of the presentation, Kilduff responded that she wanted to hear from engaged citizens. She said: “The policies we make today, because you have so many more tomorrows, make more of an impact on you than me. When I look at my daughters, I think about what kind of a world I want for them.”

The other guest speaker was Mari Leavitt, a representative who has lived in the district for 29 years. Leavitt began as a community college student at Tacoma Community College then transferred to Western Washington University.  She has worked in higher education for 22 years, including 17 years at Pierce College. Leavitt won the election for State Representative in 2018.

Civics Week shows the variety of way for students to become more politically involved. In response to how student can participate, Leavitt mentioned the different routes that students can take to become more politically conscious. The routes include talking about the environment or advocate for a bill, contacting state representatives, looking at the bills and ask questions about them… They can also participate in the Legislative Academy in the Fall and the Voice Academy in the Spring, according to Leavitt. “Legislators’ doors are open, committees are public and these folks get along really well. There are students associations and ways for students to get involved…” she expressed. According to her, there are a lot of people lobbying and advocating for bills all the time.

Representative Kilduff added: “Working in the field and any campaign you can learn a lot. While you can certainly pursue opportunity beyond 2 or 4 year (college) levels, you can also cut your teeth by working on things like campaign or being a legislative assistant in say, Olympia.” She disclosed that there is a lot to learn from the “on the job” experience or while running for office. “We need representation from all walks of life,” said Kilduff,

I believe that it is really important for Pierce College students to care about these issues because they can directly affect us”

— Elena Asmar, Pierce College environmental science student

The event attracted many students. William Wasson, a third quarter freshman, said: “It’s cool to learn that they are working that hard. A lot of the bills that they were talking about were things that were helping us. Everything from affordable housing and tenant rights to LGBTQ rights.”

Another perspective comes from Elena Asmar, a Pierce College environmental science student. Asmar is currently involved in personal beekeeping research because she want to be able to help with the colony collapse disorder. The colony collapse disorder. The “disorder” occurs when worker bees disappear, abandoning a queen bee and nurse bees with food to take care of the immature ones according to planetbee.org. She told the Pioneer: “I believe that it is really important for Pierce College students to care about these issues because they can directly affect us. As the Representatives say, we have most of the skin in this game, therefore we need to be aware that they are important to us.”

To Asmar, her favorite part of the event was the fact that Kilduff speaks fluent Spanish, which makes her feel included. “It’s not very often that you find somebody with a Puerto Rican accent speaking to you directly about what you care about,” said Asmar.

With the new generation being our future leaders, an event like Civics Week can help the body of student at Pierce to be mindful of politics. Whether or not a student is to become a politician in the future, staying in the know can come in handy in the long run. The people of Pierce today are going to be the part of the group that builds the future. Being educated on the policies and procedures can inform one to make good decisions, and advocate for those that do the same.


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