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Budding bioscientists devise flu tracking, prediction systems

A group of 12 local high school students may have come up with a possible solution for tracking where the flu might hit next.

The 12 students are part of the iCREATE bioscience pilot program by the Coconino Association for Vocations, Industry and Technology and funded by a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation. iCREATE stands for innovative Collaborative Research Experience and Technical Education.

The students, who were from several different local high schools, were given the problem of how to improve the tracking of flu-like illnesses across Coconino County, said Aaron Tabor, a biology professor who teaches at both Coconino Community College and Northern Arizona University. The students presented their findings and a possible solution Thursday afternoon at the new Science and Health Building at NAU.

Tracking flu-like illnesses can help doctors determine where the actual flu might strike next, but collecting that data can be tough, he said. There’s no system that shares information on flu-like illnesses collected by doctors with county or state public health professionals. The students had to figure out what data they needed, how to collect it and how to share it to the public, Tabor said.

CAVIAT partnered with CCC and NAU to create a curriculum for the project and to bring in guest speakers such as an epidemiologist, or disease specialists, from Coconino County Public Health Department and North Country HealthCare, bioscience professors from NAU and CCC, and bioscience professions from places like TGen North. CCC and NAU also provide classroom and presentation space for the students. STEM City helped with finding professionals to talk to the students. The students would get dual credit for both their high school classes and for college-level classes at CCC.

Using the information they got from the professors and professionals, the students split the problem into four sections and then assigned a group to each section, Tabor said. The students had the entire semester to work on the program.

One group of students focused on getting information from local schools. Kyle Adso, who was a student in this group, said they focused on schools because they learned that children and teens, like themselves, were most likely to get sick and go to the doctor.

They created a web-based program that would allow schools to record which students were out sick and why. Kasandra Vidales Gomez, who was part of the group, said they went with a web-based model because of the popularity of mobile devices.

Another group added a “flu-like illness” column to a diagnosis database that was already being used by doctors and public health specialists. A third group worked on getting all of that information to disease specialists at the state or county level.

Isabelle Begay was one of the students who worked on collecting information for the diagnosis database.

“I really looked forward to this class, even though it was an extra two hours at the end of the school day,” Begay said. She found it exciting to be able to talk to professors and professionals that do this work on a regular basis and to come up with a possible solution that might help others.

And the final group figured out a creative way to incorporate social media into the mix. They came up with the idea of creating an add-on to social media sites, such as Facebook, that would create a pop-up survey every time someone from Coconino County entered a post saying they felt ill. They also came up with an idea for a text messaging service that would alert the public to the possibility of flu-like illness in an area and ask a person questions about their current health.

The end product would send all of the information gathered to one web-based data base that could be accessed by schools and health professionals. The students had to present the process they used and the solution they came up with to a panel of professionals, which included an epidemiologist from the public health department, Dave Engelthaler, the director of programs and operations for TGen North, and a professor.

Engelthaler told the students he was impressed with the students’ solution and the way that they recognized that they might have bad data collected along with the good data and attempted to find ways to weed the bad data out. He recommended that the students find something to compare the data against, such as how many flu-like illnesses were reported from year to year or month to month.

Brent Neilson, the superintendent at CAVIAT, said the organization plans to continue the iCREATE program even after the grant funds are finished.

“The grant was really seed money to get this started,” he said. “And test a program that would create community partnerships.”

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'Hub South' stirs up University of Arizona neighbors

TUCSON -- Residents of a neighborhood just north of the University of Arizona main campus are upset about plans to build a multi-story, 1,000-bed dorm and classroom complex for students attending the UA Honors College.

In some ways, the controversy mirrors one in Flagstaff's Southside neighborhood, although it is a different developer in Tucson than the Hub.

Many residents say they are concerned they haven’t been consulted about the proposal and that the property, owned partially by the UA and the privately-owned American Campus Communities, is outside of the official campus boundaries.

ACC, based near Austin, Texas, is one of the nation’s largest developer, owner and manager of student housing communities in the country. It owns Entrada Real student apartments with 98 units and more than 350 beds near the UA, according to its website.

The proposal includes a dorm that would span an entire city block between East Drachman and Mabel streets and North Fremont and Santa Rita avenues, just north of East Speedway, and could be four to six stories tall. Other plans include classrooms, office space, a recreation center and a four-story parking garage to be built on the adjacent block between North Park and Fremont avenues.

The university is also considering demolishing several buildings along Park Avenue between Drachman and Adams streets, and putting in surface lots to offer additional parking.

The neighborhood now consists of homes, apartments catering to students, university parking lots and vacant land.

Many neighbors say they feel powerless, noting that as part of the state, the university does not have to abide by city zoning codes, including when it comes to building height, density and parking requirements.

For example, the height limitation for the surrounding neighborhood is 25 feet, or roughly two stories tall.

University officials have confirmed they are in the planning stages of the project and have begun preliminary discussions with some neighborhood residents as well as with ACC about a potential partnership in developing the property.

“We’ve been looking for a bigger, better home for honors for at least two years,” said Robert Smith, UA vice president for university planning, design and operations.

“The goal is to move our Honors College program to the next level by having all of the faculty, classrooms, beds and the students and everything together. Being spread out is not efficient.”

Currently, many UA students who are part of the Honors College live in residence halls close to Euclid Avenue and Sixth Street. The UA says there are more than 4,000 students enrolled in the Honors College.

UA officials said they’ve already made some changes to be better neighbors, including decreasing the number of floors of the dorm facing the neighborhood from six to four, and placing the entrance to the college on the south side to reduce noise and traffic generated by students.

“One of the things that is important is to lower the impact to the neighborhoods,” said Tannya Gaxiola, an assistant vice president for community relations at the UA. “Being really good neighbors is really important as we were talking through what the project would look like.”

Diana Lett, the neighborhood preservation committee chair for the Feldman’s Neighborhood Association, said she feels the university’s plans so far demonstrate a lack of transparency and little respect for the desires of the surrounding communities.

“Rather than compromise with the public and build a project we could live with, ACC and our public university chose to do an end-run around the city of Tucson — rezoning that would be required if the parcel remained privately owned,” Lett said.

The university is supposed to build within planning boundaries, she notes, as part of its adopted Comprehensive Campus Plan and the proposed Honors College is outside the UA’s northern planning boundaries.

Several residents who spoke to the Arizona Daily Star about the project echoed similar concerns.

The campus plan is a formal planning document outlining the university’s physical development of its land and construction projects, and mapping out its long-range plans to meet the educational needs of a growing student body.

Smith said he expects the new master plan will be released next year, and won’t comment on whether the boundaries — set in 2009 — will change.

While the 2009 plan showed the boundary to be just south of this proposed project, it included a reference to this area and stated that a “university partnership housing project on UA property located north of the planning boundary” is possible.

Smith said ACC has always had plans to develop the properties it owns in the neighborhood into some type of student housing.

Running his hand over a map, Smith motioned to the run-down properties the UA owns along Park Avenue between Mabel and Adams streets, mostly aging apartments.

“I personally think this is pretty unattractive here, but I don’t presume to know what the neighbors think,” Smith said.

City Councilman Steve Kozachik, a UA employee, said his hands are tied in terms of the city stepping in to help ease the resident’s concerns.

He said the university’s plans for a new dorm may be following proper legal channels, but are hurting its reputation with surrounding neighborhoods.

“Sometimes there’s what’s legal and expeditious, and sometimes there’s what you can get away with but it destroys your credibility. In this case, the UA is doing both,” Kozachik said. “More importantly is the UA losing trust. Once that’s gone, you’ve lost everything going forward.”

Kozachik has requested a joint meeting to include UA representatives, ACC officials, the city attorney and surrounding neighborhoods, but no date has been set.

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Report brings new details about shooting suspect

A Flagstaff Police Department report sheds new light on the events that led to the arrest of a juvenile accused of shooting and killing Jacob M. Allen, 20, at the Hal Jensen Recreation Center on March 3.

Fernando Enriquez, 15, was arrested on March 7 after being released from Flagstaff Medical Center and charged with first-degree murder, two felony counts of armed robbery and one count of attempted possession of marijuana.

He is believed to be one of the youngest -- if not the youngest -- persons ever charged with homicide in Flagstaff.

Enriquez was admitted to the hospital after being shot in the lower chest.

According to the police report Enriquez was found on West Street in Sunnyside with his mother, Lethisha Bobadilla, and grandmother, Christine Bobadilla, holding his lower chest.

Police reportedly asked Enriquez who had shot him, to which he replied “I don’t know.”

The report also mentions video surveillance at a local property that shows Enriquez walking away from the scene of the shooting clutching his wound.

Police also reported the “strong scent of marijuana” on Enriquez, but the report makes no mention of the drug being found on him.

Enriquez’s mother states in the report that “she did not know if her son was currently smoking marijuana, but had been in trouble two years ago for smoking in the school bathroom.”

The report does not mention what school Enriquez attended, but according to multiple Sunnyside residents he had most recently attended Summit High School, an alternative school in the Flagstaff Unified School District housed in the former Christensen Elementary School.

However according to FUSD spokesperson Karin Eberhard, Enriquez had dropped out of the school district and she could not confirm that he had been a student at Summit.

Summit Principal Chris Koenker did not wish to comment and would not confirm when Enriquez attended Summit.

The police report also states new information about the victim Allen.

The report states that the gun found at the rec center was a black Ruger 9mm handgun and was being held in Allen’s right hand when he collapsed outside the bathroom, according to statements from a rec center employee.

Police have confirmed that two guns were involved in the shooting, but only one handgun has been found.

Allen reportedly walked out of the bathroom and told rec center staff to “call 911,” before collapsing.

The same employee who said Allen was holding the handgun then administered CPR.

The police report released Monday does not cover whether Allen shot Enriquez or who instigated the incident in the rec center bathroom.

Fernando Enriquez was arrested for the Murder of Jacob Allen on March 7 after attempting to steal weed from him and Nicholas Tyler Woods during at drug deal at the Hal Jensen Recreation Center. Enriqeuz plead guilty to second-degree murder on Aug. 2