Tag Archives: Fort Collins

Choosing the Right Ride for Your Epic Journey

Data complied by the U.S. Census Bureau and released in its 2012 Statistical Abstract shows a steady increase in the number of people taking up cycling. Apart from a couple of blips in 2005 and 2008, when the number of people cycling declined, cycling has maintained its status as a growth pastime in the United States.

So what happens if you decide that cycling to work, or getting involved with a local club just isn’t enough? What if you decide as Paul Woollams did that you want to go out and see the world on two wheels? How would the average person go about getting kitted out? These are the moments when it’s probably best to seek out the advice of an expert.

Matt McMillan and Ian Venable are both bike builders and avid cyclists who work at Lee’s Cyclery in Fort Collins, Colo.

“I’d recommend a touring specific bike,” says McMillan, “something with a steel frame.”

“Yeah, steel definitely, because it’s stout and it’s repairable,” adds Venable.

The importance of having a steel frame becomes obvious when you realize that even in the most remote areas of the world, there is someone who can fix it.

Next on the list of components that need to be able to hold up to the rigors of multiple environments are the gear sets.

“If it’s a self-supported tour, then you’re going to need to carry a lot of gears, something like a mountain bike rear cassette,” says Venable.

There is also the dilemma of wheel choice; should you go with fashionable 29-inch wheels or something else?

“26-inch is the most common size, they do make touring frames with these wheels,” says McMillan, “add onto this something with a wide range of gears, something that can haul your load.”

It is possible to walk into a bike store and pull something like this straight off the rack, have it tuned up, and then head out on your journey. But how much money are you going to pay for such a bike?

“Probably about $1500,” says McMillan, “maybe a little bit less.” Of course, there is the other option of a customized build at the store.

“You can make it as expensive as you like,” laughs McMillan. “I guess I wouldn’t want to put absolute top of the line stuff on there, because some of that is very specific and not every part of the world is going to have parts available.”

“You’re bound to have mechanical issues, it’s just a matter of time. Something that’s going to be fixable is going to become more desirable.”

So armed with a wallet and desire, what brands should the prospective traveler have in mind?

“Shimano, they’re known for their reliability,” says McMillan, “they are also worldwide.”

There are also multiple versions of steel frames available, so picking the right one is an exercise in weighing up competing variables.

“A frame is not a frame, there are many, many different types of steel out there,” says McMillan.

“There’s Reynolds steel, Columbus steel, Tengay steel, and many more that I don’t even know about.”

The steel itself varies on lightness and strength and so does the price. But McMillan felt that it wasn’t completely necessary to go for the top of the line in frames all the time.

More importantly, you’re going to need some wheels to get yourself on the road. McMillan and Venable both have some suggestions.

“An aluminum alloy wheel is just going to be stronger and lighter than a regular wheel,” says McMillan.

“It’s probably worth spending a little more on the wheels than you would think.”

Venable suggests a particular brand prospective riders should be thinking about, “Shimano XT hubs with Sun Rhyno Lite rims.”

“They are really good value and they are bombproof.”

Surprisingly, you could put all of these separate components together for roughly the same $1500 that you would spend on an off the shelf model. So why bother?

“You would just have much more bike in terms of quality, and it would be personalized to the specifications that you wanted,” states Venable.

So when you get that desire to go a little further than nearly all other riders, get a plan together and make your way down to your local experts for some professional advice. It will pay off in the end.

© 2012 Jamie M. Bradley All Rights Reserved

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Liquor Store Caters to Changing Tastes

In the cavernous retail space occupied by Wilburs Total Beverage in Fort Collins, CO., manager and beer buyer Jeff Matson ponders just exactly how many craft brew brands he has in the store.

“You know, I can’t keep count, it changes every day.” After a period of mental calculation, along with a visual inspection of the endless shelves and coolers, Matson felt semi-confident of the number.

“About 500.”

As a beer buyer, Matson has to have his finger on the pulse of what his clients desire. In Matson’s eyes there’s one product that’s going to blow up over the summer.

“Ciders. Within the last year or so ciders have really been making a comeback. I was buying cider years ago and people were laughing at me. After pounding beer after beer after beer, you have a cider and boom! You’re ready to go back to beer. It’s just a nice cleanser.”

Matson is such a large fan of ciders that he has been steadily cultivating the shelf space that gets devoted to the esteemed apple product. This is of course the tricky part of being a beer buyer, trying to anticipate a whimsical public. Past trends often leave things no clearer either. Last year it was black IPA. This year could be a variation of that, or something completely different.

“It’s funny, things will always come in waves. I remember all these doubles and imperials that were strictly for anniversaries. Then they became the norm, just because we can. Then it was oak ageing, I remember the first bourbon stout I had, now you can get bourbon everything. Of course, we now have the wild ales and the sours.”

It seems that in Fort Collins you can throw a stone in any direction and hit a brewery, a brewpub, or somebody just making homebrew in their garage. Matson felt there was an underlying reason for this explosion.

“It might be because of Odell and New Belgium being from Fort Collins. It’s something that people who grew up here in Fort Collins can claim as their own. Because of them making beer, then people are more likely to try other craft beers.”

However, in setting up the way that his store marketed craft beer Matson had been careful to not alienate the uninitiated either.

“The best selling craft brews I have in the store comes from my ‘mixed six’ area. I got three doors (refrigerator door space) dedicated to just singles. That was one of the first ideas I had for the store.”

In doing so Matson allowed for people to just try a little bit of what the fancied each time, instead of asking people to commit to a whole six pack of something they’d never tried.

“It’s just a great tool to introduce new beers.”

For people who do know what they want, which local brewery does Matson think dominates the market share in store?

“You know, of course, New Belgium. But I tell you what, Odell is creeping,” laughed Matson.

© 2012 Jamie M. Bradley All Rights Reserved

Beer Springs Eternal in Foothills Brewing Mecca

Pateros Creek BarAt 5000 feet above sea level the sun beats down hard. Endless blue skies provide the perfect backdrop to the foothills on the west side of town.

It’s midday, the giant umbrellas are opened above the wrought iron tables and chairs, and a steady stream of customers are already clamoring to sample the beers brewed straight from the imagination of Steve Jones.

Jones is one of the latest people who have carved out a niche for themselves in the competitive world of beer brewing in Fort Collins, Colo. Pateros Creek Brewing is Jones’ brainchild, and Jones aims to be around in the future. But how do small, independent breweries keep the public interested? What does Jones think is going to be the big thing this summer in Fort Collins?

“For some reason, in this town people are still craving the hoppy stuff. But, what I think is something like a dry-hopped cider might come around, a dry-hopped mead, dry-hopping different things might be the way it’s going to go”

Not five minutes walk away at Equinox Brewing, owner Shannon Westcott already had a couple of things in mind.

“Our seasonal beers are popular, Vernal Hefeweizen in the spring and Midsummer Pale Ale released in mid-June. But, if anything we try to stay away from trends in brewing. If we do what everyone else is doing, then we aren’t setting ourselves apart.”

Jones had similar things to say when it came to following the desires of a fickle public.

“I try to hold my ground as much as possible, and I’ll tell you I’m actually a sore thumb in the town. You’ll notice that not all of my beers have hops in them. They are session style, not a lot of alcohol, not a lot of hops, I’m really just going for the malt flavors. I guess English styles are just really my thing”

The hard-headedness needed to march to the beat of your own drum is particularly well appreciated in a city like Fort Collins. But, not every unique business path leads to success, more so with the most recent downturn in the economy. So why is craft brewing still making great financial strides in small towns and cities across the U.S.?

“As craft beer grows, more people learn about it and introduce their friends to it. It seems that people are beginning to pay more attention to what they drink,” said Westcott. “New Belgium and Odell Brewing have been operating here for over 20 years. New Belgium especially has brought a lot of attention to Fort Collins as a place for craft beer, and that allowed a lot of smaller breweries, like ourselves, to open up.”

Starting a new brewery can be a costly enterprise as Jones explained, “We spent about $200,000 in total with the build-out, but about $150,000 without.”

Jones had also managed to keep the cost down by doing a lot of the actual build-out labor himself. Also, Jones had frugally invested in used equipment instead of going for brand new gear.

Brewing Equipment“A new 15 bbl system with 2 fermenters and 2 brites will run out $130,000 alone.”

Then of course it is just a matter of making the brews, and even though both breweries try to stay clear of obvious beer trends, there was one extremely important thing to bear in mind.

“You still have a customer, and your customer has a good opinion of what they like to drink. So, you’re sort of following what they want to do. I’ll have my specialty beers, but the standard taps, that’s because of the customers,” laughed Jones.

Westcott was much more succinct on the subject of customer feedback, “If a beer sells quickly, we try to keep it around, or make a similar beer.”

However, even though some people have the vision, desire and credentials to make it as a quality craft brewer, there can often be a financial impediment to getting the whole venture off the ground. Jones and Westcott had arrived at their present destinations in very different financial fashion.

“We got all the way to the end of one funding application, and the guy said ‘we’re going to cut your checks next week,’ and then he called back a within that week and said, ‘you know I just got a call from corporate and they said they’re not doing any more small business loans,’” said Jones.

“It was really frustrating for us, because we had all of this stuff kind of lined up. We had no money to pay for anything, what are we supposed to do? Claim bankruptcy?”

Faced with what seemed like an almost impossible situation, Jones turned to the people he trusted most, his friends and family.

“We just sort of scrambled around, we talked to friends, friends of friends, and we found investors. We offered them a piece of the thing, we actually have investors that don’t own any stock, they actually own the equipment and we lease it from them. We got creative.”

The upshot of so many people who want Jones’ venture to succeed is having many hands to help pitch in with the more mundane daily activities.

“Our investors are so into it they’ll come in and clean kegs and help brew batches of beer.”

Westcott over at Equinox didn’t quite have the same issue as Jones, but did see possible financial issues on the horizon if the trend in start-up breweries in Fort Collins continued at its present pace.

“We had our successful business, Hops & Berries, to back us up. We also had a solid, well thought out business plan, and years of experience both in brewing and running a business. We were able to secure Small Business Administration funding for everything we needed, along with our own money of course.”

“I wonder if it will get harder to get financing as more breweries come in. The banks may think there is a limit to how many breweries Fort Collins can support.”

Both Pateros Creek and Equinox were optimistic about their futures, but they differed slightly on where they wanted to be in five years.

“I want this little tap room to still be here,” said Jones, “we actually own the portion of the building that we’re in, and that’s our little downtown tap.”

“I want to be building a bigger facility off site, somewhere else, to brew larger batches to can, and to get that beer out into the liquor stores. That’s kind of my dream.”

Westcott had a dream of her own too, “Our goal is to keep Equinox small, doing what we do now. We may grow and expand our space, offering more music and the like, but we aren’t interested in becoming a distribution brewery.”

The final word rested with Westcott who seemed to sum up everything that Jones had talked about as well.

“We have a lot more fun being connected to our customers.”

Whatever the future holds for Pateros Creek Brewing and Equinox Brewing, it seems that both have already cemented their reputations in an ultra-competitive market, within a community that really knows and appreciates its beer.

© 2012 Jamie M. Bradley

The Changing Face of CSU: Ye Xiaohui & Lee Seonju

The Changing Face of CSU

The INTO CSU program is set to almost double the number of international students on campus within the next five years. At present there are around 1,100 international students studying at CSU, and almost a third of them are from China alone according to Colorado State University’s 2012-2013 Fact Book.

With 54 students, South Korea is in fourth place on CSU’s list of ‘Top Countries of Origin for International Students’ behind China, Saudi Arabia and India. Libya rounds out the top five with 43 students.

Ye Xiaohui from China and Lee Seonju from South Korea have both been studying at CSU for over a year (both women follow the naming conventions of their respective countries and place their family names in front of their given names).

Though their paths have never crossed, their experiences are remarkably similar.

The Changing Face of CSU: Ivy

Ye XiaohuiYe Xiaohui graduated from Zhangzou No.1 High School in China’s Fujian province and transferred to CSU in August 2011.

“The rule is, if we can pass the TOEFL (Test Of English as a Foreign Language) we can come straight in,” Ye explained.

Unfortunately for her, she wasn’t able to hit that mark. That meant a spell in the Intensive English Program at CSU.

“I took some classes,” said Ye. “Like listening, writing and speaking. I was also taking some CSU classes at the same time.”

Ye, or Ivy as she prefers to be known (it’s common for many Chinese to have a nickname), quickly moved on and jumped headlong into regular American university life.

“The writing class helped me,” said Ivy. “I learned the basic principles on how to write an essay. I didn’t like the speaking class, because we all (the international students in the program) had accents. So, it was so hard for me to understand them.”

American life has its own special set of problems for international students. There are cultural minefields for people to navigate. Some students come from cultures where it’s considered impolite to immediately accept something being offered. The student soon finds out that once they have refused, there is no second offer forthcoming.

There can also be underlying tensions between U.S. students and international students about wars, human rights issues and economic problems. There are often just plain old misunderstandings when speaking in a second or third language, and there are moments when you wouldn’t get on with people even if you spoke the same language.

“For my first week, I stayed with one of the volunteer families,” said Ivy. “She was so nice to me, and the reason I was staying there was because the dorm wasn’t ready.”

She continued, “After that I moved into the dorm. My roommate was an American student, but we didn’t talk much, because my English was so poor.”

The fear of having their English language skills judged can lead some students to clam up altogether.

“I was always on my own,” remembered Ivy.

That was a year ago, have things progressed much for her?

“I still feel like a Chinese student,” said Ivy. “Sometimes we hang out with U.S. students, but not that much.”

She continued, “What’s interesting is that right now I’m living in University Village and there are a lot of Chinese students. We don’t talk in English with each other, even though we are in an English-speaking country.”

Could this be the fault of CSU? Has the university been doing enough to promote the cross-cultural aspect of studying at a foreign university?

Is University Village failing to live up to its goal of providing an “academically supportive, family environment for students who are interested in living in an interactive community,” as it states on the Housing and Dining Services website.

Has it been about the almighty dollar all along? And those almighty dollars certainly add up quickly when you consider that an international student will pay almost $25,000 per year in tuition alone, compared to around $9000 for an undergraduate classified as a Colorado resident.

“Maybe we (Chinese students) are not open enough. I am not confident with my English, so I just don’t want to talk,’ rued Ivy.

Regular class life seems the same for Ivy as it does for anyone else at the university.

“Actually, for classes we can understand most of the problems,” explained Ivy. “After class we need to read the textbook, or some document, which can help us understand better.”

Liberal Arts classes appear to cause the most difficulty.

“There are lots of non-academic words,” said Ivy. “So even though I translate them, I don’t get the idea.”

But, CSU appears cognizant of problems encountered by international students like Ivy in class, and is more than willing to take the time to help them out.

“I went to meet my TA (Teaching Assistant) once,” said Ivy. “He gave me a lot of resources. But, I didn’t do anything with them. I just studied on my own.”

This attitude seemingly flies in the face of the point of being an international student. To get to know, and mingle with on multiple levels all of the student body you are surrounded by.

“For me, the big idea is to get a higher education,” said Ivy. “You need to live on your own, you need to do a lot of things by yourself. It’s challenging. When I ask for help, there is always help. But we prefer to work on our own.”

Ivy continued, “I have tried to change my habits, I try to hang out with more native students. It has helped a little. I have an English language partner from the Chinese club, and we help each other. We meet once in two weeks, but that’s fun because you can talk. She’s interested in Chinese culture so we have more to talk about.”

Ivy reflected for a minute or so on the statement she had just made before adding, “One of the reasons that I don’t want to talk with people is because sometimes I feel they are not nice.”

Ivy continued to blow off steam, “We are still struggling with our English, and sometimes when I talk I need to think about Chinese words, to translate, and sometimes I can’t.”

The Changing Face of CSU: Seonju

Lee SeonjuLee Seonju, a senior biology major from Daegu, South Korea, is in her final year of study at CSU.

“I like biology,” said Lee. “It was frustrating, at first, because it was hard to understand everything. But, now I am adjusting, it’s OK.”

Even though, Lee’s study habits are startlingly similar to Ivy’s: working alone and cramming for exams.

“Native English speakers speak too fast for us. I don’t know anyone in my major, so I usually study by myself,” stated Lee.

She has mixed feelings on the preparation CSU provided for her mainstream classes.

“I was nervous because I hadn’t experienced anything in American university,” said Lee. “But, it wasn’t really practical. I didn’t go to a real classroom. I had online lectures. It’s not intense enough compared to the real class.”

The classroom setting presents its own set of unique problems for international students whose first language isn’t English.

“It’s really hard to ask any questions during the class,” said Lee. “I need more time than anybody else. So, I have to go after class or during their office hours.”

Lee continued, “If it’s my major then I don’t think it’s very hard. But, if it’s about American culture or history things that I’m not really aware of, then it’s really hard. To Americans, it’s like common sense, but to me it’s a total strange thing.”

While she was in the Intensive English Program, Lee was bombarded with requests to go to international nights, to meet other international students, to generally find her feet. In Lee’s view, CSU hasn’t really continued to offer that helping hand to integrate with American society.

“I live in Aggie Village with my friend, and I feel that CSU doesn’t really promote any of my outside campus life. If I don’t look for it, I don’t do it,” said Lee.

CSU’s Office of International Programs does have a calendar on its website that lists events for international students, but all of the activities are campus based or university organized. Dating back to the start of the semester, nothing was on the calendar that could be classified as ‘outside campus life.’

“Now they send me e-mails about ‘do I want to be a mentor?’ I need a mentor!” laughed Lee as she considered the possibility.

“I don’t think I’d be very helpful to them. I’m still learning about American culture.”

(This article originally appeared online at http://www.intocsu.weebly.com in December 2012.)

© 2012 Jamie M. Bradley All Rights Reserved

INTO CSU: Milking the Multicultural Cash Cow?

Frank’s Grand Plan: An International Lifeline?

Back in February, Colorado State University’s President Tony Frank said, “CSU has a long-standing tradition of attracting international students to its world-class academic and research programs, and I’m very excited about the opportunity to expand that through our new relationship with INTO.”

As he did so, Frank set the ball rolling on his mission to, as he put it, “grow CSU’s footprint in parts of the planet that were previously beyond our reach.”

Almost as soon as the statement floated off Frank’s lips, faculty members began to wonder what this development held in store for them. People have grokked over the implications of having the international student population almost double over the course of five years, from today’s figure of 1,100 students to around 2,100.

Why is CSU entering into this partnership? Is it a global brand expansion, or is it just about the added, and badly needed revenue that can be funneled into CSU’s coffers?

Frank spelled out his fiscal worries during the annual President’s Fall Address and University Picnic on Sept. 13, 2012.

“There will no longer be public funding for higher education in the state of Colorado,” Frank said. “It will happen within the next 7 to 10 years on our watch.”

According to the Student Financial Services section of CSU’s website, a Colorado resident undergraduate student living on campus will pay a total bill of almost $22,000 per year. Compare that to nearly $40,000 for an international student. If they bring a spouse, make it $50,000. These sorts of figures must be extremely attractive to a university looking for a way to bring in more cash.

A Level Playing Field

On the south side of the congested Lory Student Center parking lot, at the top of the concrete steps that are usually coated with crude, chalk written, recruitment drives for frats and sororities, sits the office of academic adviser Elisabeth Wadman. Working within the engineering faculty, she doesn’t have much enthusiasm for the brave new INTO CSU world.

“Right now,” said Wadman. “A lot of people just see it as a way to bring revenue to the institution. Yes, we need that, but we also need for it to be a benefit in ways other than money.”

Wadman envisaged a fundamental retooling of the role that international students could play within the department.

“It’s going to take a concerted effort,” she said. “Because I think that not only do they have a lot to learn from our domestic students, our domestic students have a lot to learn from them. Engineering being a universal, it’s important to work on that aspect.”

Unfortunately, the process for enrolling international students at CSU has its share of problems.

Many foreign students take English placement exams in their native countries, reach a required level on the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) scale, and become ‘direct admits’ to the university. A directly admitted international student has as much freedom to chose classes as an American high school graduate.

“TOEFL scores, honestly, are not worth the paper they are written on,” Wadman said. “We have had issues with cheating, and people taking courses online, or at other institutions, and paying somebody else to take that class for them. It becomes apparent when you receive emails from someone who cannot communicate in a written manner in English, yet they got an A+ in a course.”

This sort of academic dishonesty should lead to students being thrown out of class, if not out of school altogether. But, maybe because of concerns about frightening off CSU’s new cash cow, “sometimes the university isn’t willing to back a department up when it comes to that,” said Wadman.

It also seems that the university hasn’t put together an adequate plan for international student transcripts either. There are numerous hassles involved with studying at a foreign university: They can run on different semester schedules, and all of the student’s previous work must be evaluated to see what courses it satisfies. Add to that some translation and visa rules and you have an extremely time-consuming process.

To beat the clock on admissions, CSU has taken a novel approach: Completely ignore the problem and forge ahead.

“How is it that you admit somebody a week before classes begin, and they are an international transfer student?” said Wadman. “That’s not fair to the student, it’s not fair to the adviser, it’s not fair to the faculty, and it’s not fair to the program.”

Bridging the Language Gap

International students often find themselves struggling as much as their advisers. They arrive at CSU, have some prep time in remedial English placement classes if required, and then they are set loose around campus.

“Native English speakers speak too fast for us. I don’t know anyone in my major, so I usually study by myself,” said Lee Seonju, a biology major from South Korea.

The fact that Lee (Korean naming tradition dictates that the family name goes in front of the given name), who speaks English extremely well, hasn’t integrated more into CSU’s campus culture is disheartening.

“I live in Aggie Village with my friend,” said Lee. “I feel that CSU doesn’t really promote any of my outside campus life. If I don’t look for it, I don’t do it.”

She continued, “Now they send me e-mails about ‘do I want to be a mentor?’ I need a mentor!”

Echoing Lee’s concerns, Wadman continued, “We’re going to struggle with comprehension, and we’re going to have students struggle in classes because they’re not able to understand right away.”

There is always the danger that this could lead to faculty members having to teach a two-track lesson – Catering to bright, but non-fluent English speakers on one side, and native English speakers on the other.

Meeting the Student’s Needs

So as CSU banks the monetary gain from this merging of ideas and cultures, who’s job is it to pick up the slack and navigate international students through their CSU academic career?

That responsibility seems to have fallen squarely on the shoulders of the English department and the CSU Writing Center, both located in Eddy Hall.

“These students are smart in their first language, they are college material,” said Louann Reid, head of the English department.

Reid saw many options available to international students to help them make the transition.

The remedial classes that some have to take when they arrive via the INTO CSU program are designed to get them up and running. Known as a ‘pathway’ course, they are supposed to get students ready for American-style college life. Lee Seonju didn’t see it like that.

“In my case I didn’t really go to the real classroom. It was online lecture,” said Lee. “So, it’s not intense enough compared to the real class.”

As more international students arrive, the English department will have to expand to accommodate their needs. More international composition classes will have to be offered, and someone has got to pay for that.

“We will be hiring more adjunct faculty to teach those courses,” said Reid. “We have a request into the provost for a tenure track faculty specialist in ESL (English as a Second Language) Composition. So, once the numbers increase and we can show the need, we’ll remind the provost of our request.”

Downstairs in the cramped CSU Writing Center, they also expected to get busier as more students come in seeking help with academic papers.

Coaches and students are often perched around tables, and one woman appeared to be stuck in the middle of the room performing a balancing act with a table and some notebooks.

The ‘office’ area of the Writing Center is constructed from screens and crammed into the corner of the room. The thought of a deluge of students is worrying.

“We need a bigger space,” said Tobi Jacobi, associate professor of English and incoming director of the Writing Center. On top of the lack of space, the needs of international students differ slightly from the center services offered at present.

“Right now,” said Jacobi, “I think they would like appointments and longer sessions, but we just don’t have the capacity to do that.”

Jennifer Levin, a new ELL (English Language Learner) specialist hired by the Writing Center, is in the process of conducting a needs analysis. Her preliminary findings matched up with Jacobi’s prognosis.

“Right now, we can handle the number of students that we are getting in the writing center,” said Levin. “But, if we’re looking at having up to 10 percent of our student enrollment being international students, then that’s going to really affect numbers. It’s going to really make us want to expand the center.”

Where Do We Go From Here?

Back over on the north side of the Lory Student Center car park, nestled on top of the small grass slope is the College of Business, domain of Michael Jaramillo.

A self-confessed ‘old-hand’ at dealing with the trials and tribulations of foreign students, Jaramillo is director of undergraduate programs.

What advice could this man have for faculty and management alike? What can they do about the transcripts? The visas? To Jaramillo, flexibility is the key.

“You’re not just sending a quick e-mail,” said Jaramillo. “You have to interpret, get it converted. It’s an extensive process and it takes time.”

For Jaramillo the benefits for the university were plain to see, and they were much more than monetary.

“This is very exciting,” he continued. “The more international students we have in our college, the better all of our students, international and American students, are going to be qualified for what they are going to experience.”

As the days tick away to the end of the semester, and worries about visas and transcripts continue to plague advisers, students congregate as usual in the Behavioral Sciences building. What do these students think having more international students around will mean?

“I don’t think it will affect CSU too much,” said Leah Tanaka, a senior Language, Literatures and Cultures student.

“I don’t know if it will make a difference,” said Brenda Valdez, a senior Art major from Fort Morgan.

She continued, “I think it’s a good thing, it’ll make a much more diverse community here.”

“It’ll probably mean more study abroad opportunities for CSU students,” added Tanaka.

Katherine Odanaka, a senior Zoology major from California saw the whole thing as a non-debate.

“Where I come from,” said Odanaka. “Our city is mostly foreign students who have moved over with their families. It doesn’t bother me; I’ve grown up with it. Experiencing it here will not make any difference.”

(This article originally appeared online at http://www.intocsu.weebly.com in December 2012.)

© 2012 Jamie M. Bradley All Rights Reserved

Drug Use Denial Shoots Up in District Attorney’s Office (Original)

Fort Collins appears to have everything its residents could ever desire, charming bucolic scenery, easygoing inhabitants with a bent for the outdoors, and a premium ranking in the U.S. livability index year after year.

But not all of the city’s roughly 140,000 citizens are being best served by local authorities. Marginalized and misunderstood, Fort Collins’ intravenous drug users have been left without services that they are now legally entitled to.

In 2010 Colorado lawmakers added an exemption into the state’s drug paraphernalia laws that allowed counties to legally adopt syringe exchange programs. Boulder County jumped at the chance and now has their program fully out in the open (it ran covertly for 22 years prior to the law change), and Denver programs are following suit.

Fort Collins was tipped as the next breakthrough battleground in the war against disease being spread by shared needles and Larimer County found itself in the spotlight. But since then very little has happened. There is no official needle exchange, and talk of one is usually conducted in hushed tones. The biggest question has to be, why?

Jeff Basinger, executive director of the Northern Colorado AIDS Project, has a few ideas as to where the problem lies. “It starts with people who think that drug use is a choice, rather than an addiction. All addictions obviously start with a choice, but once it moves further along it becomes disease.”

From his office in the heart of Old Town in Fort Collins, Basinger spoke candidly about the mindset he finds himself up against, “It’s the attitude that drug use is bad, drug users are bad, and if you provide a needle exchange for them then the problem is just going to get worse. Which is of course the exact opposite of what research has actually shown.”

Basinger has been receiving Federal funding for about 5 years for an initiative called “Reaching Rural IDU” (IDU stands for Intravenous Drug Users) which Basinger renamed “Reaching Rural People Who Inject” due to his dislike of the original federal moniker.

The walk-in clinic has been functioning well according to Basinger, “We’ve been doing a social networking risk reduction program for people who inject drugs. Through that we knew that there was a very active injection drug population here in northern Colorado.”

The walk-in clinic provides multiple services to the clients that arrive on the doorstep; disease testing, bleach kits, counseling, and arrangement of services to help people get off drugs.

Basinger explained what the change in the Colorado law did for them, “It doesn’t legalize syringes or paraphernalia, it certainly doesn’t legalize possession of drugs, what it does is it decriminalizes a person who is enrolled as a participant within a syringe exchange program.”

All these good things should be pointing to Fort Collins quickly embracing its own needle exchange program. But the progress has been slow, as Basinger points out, “To operate legally, we need approval from the local board of health, and we have been hosting those conversations since July. We’ve met three times and provided them with information.” There is also another dimension to getting the exchange fully functional, “Ideally it has to have the cooperation of local law enforcement and other stakeholders, but that isn’t required.”

However, both of these things are proving to be easier said than done. “There’s a split in the health board vote, but the majority see this as an important strategy to meet their own 2011 goal of reducing blood-borne disease transmission among people who inject drugs within Larimer County,” said Basinger.

On top of this there is Larry Abrahamson, the Larimer County District Attorney, who has according to Basinger, “Philosophical concerns, is not convinced that there is an issue, or that any program will even work if there was one.” All of this leads to a situation that Basinger describes simply as a, “political minefield.”

Pushed further, Basinger explained that the needle exchange debate was drawing more attention to other things that Fort Collins authorities seemed to be in denial about, “social injustice, poverty, racism, homophobia, drug use, homelessness, illiteracy. Poverty is over twenty percent in Larimer County, illiteracy is over one-in-five people, it’s insane. There are some real issues here in Fort Collins, but people don’t like to talk about them, because it’s such a fabulous place to live.”

Boulder’s needle exchange has been running for over twenty years and they were the first in the state to take advantage of the change in the law. Carol Helwig, the Boulder County HIV/STI Outreach Coordinator, had a few opinions of her own as to why Larimer County was taking its time in moving forward, “First of all, the paraphernalia law has been there prohibiting progress, and then after the change in the law it takes a long time to build stakeholder support and to get all of your ducks in a row. Getting on an agenda for a local board of health takes time, it’s a big process.”

Boulder County also had the approval of the local District Attorney and other law enforcement entities, something Helwig saw as pivotal, “We’ve benefited from their cooperation, support and understanding.”

Helwig also saw the court system in Boulder as, “Very progressive and not interested in prosecuting non-violent drug offences in a criminal fashion, but rather taking a public health issue approach with the cases.”

Unfortunately when the Boulder County District Attorney’s office was contacted for an opinion on what the Larimer District Attorney should be taking into consideration, it declined to go on the record with any comments.

Looking into the future Helwig predicted that, “The services will become available, it’s just a matter of jumping through the required hoops.” She then went further, “Any new program, any change, is already difficult even when it’s not controversial. This program is full of controversy and stigma and as such is a really hard sell. Drug users are almost really the last group of people that it’s still OK to stigmatize and discriminate against.”

During the course of the interview Helwig addressed the notion that a slightly more liberal mindset in Boulder County, compared to the conservative leaning Fort Collins, had lead to a quicker take up of social healthcare programs such as needle exchanges, “I couldn’t say it is a different mentality, but I would say that in Boulder County there is a value placed on social justice, a value placed on reaching out to people who are vulnerable or marginalized, a value placed on evidence based practice, and I think that those values are what created the alignment between our programming and being able to operate in spite of those paraphernalia laws. I’m not making a judgment about what constitutes a value in Fort Collins, I’m just explaining how we have done it done here in Boulder.”

As if to prove a point that the need for a needle exchange program exists in Larimer County, people are regularly driving down to the Boulder needle exchange from Greeley, Fort Collins and other northern Colorado areas.

Clients of the Boulder needle exchange also took part in a focus group to discuss their feelings about the service. An unnamed client said, “It’s just an awesome program, I wish it could be everywhere in every city. It’s like I said, you can’t stop people from doing what they’re doing but you can reduce the harm.”

So as the weight stacks up in favor of these programs, entities like the Larimer County Health Board find themselves coming closer to actually having to make a decision.

Fortunately, neither Larimer County nor Colorado is the testing ground for initiatives such as Needle Exchange Programs. NEP’s have been around in the U.S. since the 1980s, and as such plentiful data is available about them. A report found on the Center for Disease Control website states that,  “An impressive body of evidence suggests powerful effects from needle exchange programs. Studies show reduction in risk behavior as high as 80%, with estimates of a 30% or greater reduction of HIV in IDUs.”

For the more fiscally minded those figures can be interpreted as, “The cost per HIV infection prevented by SEPs (NEP’s) has been calculated at $4,000 to $12,000, considerably less than the estimated $190,000 medical costs of treating a person infected with HIV.”

So finally it comes down to the Larimer County Health Board to approve Fort Collins’ first openly operating needle exchange. The board members are appointed on rolling five-year terms by the County Commissioners.

Their terms are staggered, but reappointment is possible. Dr. Adrienne Lebailly is on the board and offered an insight into how far things are along in the quest to provide serious support to local intravenous drug users.

“Probably early 2012 there will be some sort of decision. In July all three county commissioners and all five board of health members went on a site visit to the NCAP offices. Jeff (Basinger) and his staff presented information about what they can currently do, and what they’d like to be able to do.” In October a similar presentation was organized by the Boulder NEP and seen by the majority of the health board.

However, the health board doesn’t get to make the decision based on their own input alone explained Lebailly, “We also have to consult with other entities including the District Attorney (Larry Abrahamson), he being the person who would prosecute people charged with crimes, along with local law enforcement. It’s going to focus more on the City of Fort Collins Police, rather than the County Sheriff, as the NCAP offices are physically located within the City of Fort Collins Police’s jurisdiction. Complicating it further is the fact that Fort Collins is at present looking for a new police chief.”

Making matters worse for the NCAP program is the division that exists on the health board. Lebailly’s prognosis wasn’t good, “I would say it’s split and I don’t know how it’s going to go.”

To Lebailly, the reasoning behind the split was multi-layered, “More conservative members tend to believe it sends a bad message. I think that public health comes at the issue from a harm reduction point of view, that we’re not endorsing drug use, but we’re trying to protect these people from getting a potentially fatal disease until such time as they’re ready to accept treatment. I think one of the important parts of the NCAP program is that every time someone comes in, they are offered treatment and they can choose to accept or decline it. People still interpret this as, you know, you’re just making it safer for people to inject drugs. It’s kind of the same argument that people have against providing condoms to teenagers.”

But it appears that all the blame can’t be laid on the shoulders of the more conservative members, “There were some people who have supported in the past, the medical marijuana amendment, and then they see what kind of businesses have sprung up and how it has changed the community, and they think that if you do this then this will be a great attraction and bring all kinds of drug users to Larimer County or Fort Collins. The data also doesn’t support that, but it’s really, sometimes it’s hard to persuade people who think that their perception is more compelling than any data you show them,” rued Dr. Lebailly.

In addition to this there is also a split on the board of county commissioners that, even though they don’t have voting rights, concerns Lebailly.

To Lebailly that meant addressing the question that, “Even if the health department isn’t going to offer it, and no tax dollars are going into it, and not even if you like the idea or not, but whether you think it’s such a bad, such a terrible idea that you won’t let a reputable organization like NCAP take this additional step in protecting their clients?”

As the issue nears its conclusion early in the New Year, Larry Abrahamson, the Larimer County District Attorney, articulated his position on the matter, “The needle exchange program is primarily a Department of Health initiative, which is basically more of a health concern than a public safety concern at this point, so we are not taking any formal position. I think it’s probably utilized more effectively in areas where they have maybe a lot of Hepatitis as a result of dirty needles or HIV spread, or something like this, in larger jurisdictions. I don’t see necessarily that as an issue here. But, I know it’s a Department of Health issue and it’s something that they are promoting. From our perspective it hasn’t risen to the level of a public safety concern that we would necessarily be taking a strong stand on at this point.”

Whether or not the District Attorney or other law enforcement entities get on board with the program remains to be seen. But with so much at stake, and with such polar opposite views being held by many of the prospective stakeholders, it appears that early 2012 will be crunch time for many working to help some of Fort Collins’ most underserved residents.

(A version of this article appeared in print on December 11, 2011, on page A1 of The Rocky Mountain Collegian with the headline: Heroin Deaths in Fort Collins Inspire a Need for Needle Exchange Program.)

© 2012 Jamie M. Bradley All Rights Reserved

Heroin Deaths in Fort Collins Inspire a Need for Needle Exchange Program

With three reportedly heroin-related deaths in Fort Collins in the past month, many have concluded that intravenous drug use is more prevalent in Fort Collins than previously thought.

But even before those deaths, several Fort Collins local authorities and a community support project have been on a collision course over a plan to set up the city’s first legal needle exchange. A coalition spearheaded by the Northern Colorado AIDS Project says the reality of drug use demands the program be implemented for health reasons. Opponents of the plan are concerned the initiative would encourage and facilitate drug use, and tarnish the image of the city.

In 2010, Colorado lawmakers added an exemption into the state’s drug paraphernalia law that allowed counties to legally adopt syringe exchange programs. Boulder County jumped at the chance and now has their program fully out in the open (it ran covertly for 22 years prior to the law change), and Denver programs are following suit.

Larimer County was tipped as the next logical location for a Syringe Exchange Program. But very little has happened thus far. There is no official needle exchange, and public conversation around the topic has been almost non-existent, some activists complain.

Jeff Basinger, executive director of the Northern Colorado AIDS Project, has ideas why no one is talking.

“It’s the attitude that drug use is bad,” Basinger said. “Drug users are bad, and if you provide a needle exchange for them, then the problem is just going to get worse.”

Basinger said for a needle exchange to become a reality, multiple entities must be on board.

“We need approval from the local board of health, and we have been hosting those conversations since July,” Basinger said. “We’ve met three times and provided them with information.”

The Larimer County Board of Health’s own strategy for 2011 includes a goal to reduce blood-borne disease transmission among intravenous drug users.

But another key player is Larry Abrahamson, the Larimer County District Attorney, who has, according to Basinger, “philosophical concerns.”

“The needle exchange program is primarily a Department of Health initiative,” Abrahamson said in a voicemail message. “Which is basically more of a health concern than a public safety concern at this point, so we are not taking any formal position.”

The D.A. also believed Fort Collins’ size didn’t make it an obvious target for the program.

“I think it’s probably utilized more effectively in areas where they have maybe a lot of hepatitis as a result of dirty needles or HIV spread, or something like this, in larger jurisdictions,” he said. “I don’t see necessarily that as an issue here. From our perspective it hasn’t risen to the level of a public safety concern that we would necessarily be taking a strong stand on at this point.”

All of this has lead to a situation that Basinger describes simply as a, “political minefield.” Pushed further, he explained that the needle exchange debate illuminating issues that Fort Collins authorities seem to be in denial about, such as, “social injustice, poverty, racism, homophobia, drug use, homelessness, illiteracy. Poverty is over 20 percent in Larimer County, illiteracy is over one-in-five people, it’s insane. There are some real issues here in Fort Collins, but people don’t like to talk about them because it’s such a fabulous place to live.”

An equally desirable place to live that does have a needle exchange is just down the highway in Boulder. Boulder’s needle exchange has been running for more than 20 years and the city was the first in the state to take advantage of the change in the law.

Carol Helwig, the Boulder County HIV/STI Outreach Coordinator, said there are practical reasons why development of a program has been slow in Fort Collins.

“First of all, the paraphernalia law has been there prohibiting progress,” she said. “And then after the change in the law it takes a long time to build stakeholder support and to get all of your ducks in a row. Getting on an agenda for a local board of health takes time, it’s a big process.”

Boulder County also had the approval of the local district attorney and other law enforcement entities, something Helwig saw as pivotal.

“We’ve benefited from their cooperation, support and understanding, ” Helwig said, adding that he also saw the court system in Boulder as, “very progressive and not interested in prosecuting non-violent drug offenses in a criminal fashion, but rather taking a public health issue approach with the cases.”

Helwig said people are already driving down to the Boulder needle exchange from Greeley, Fort Collins and other northern Colorado areas. Some of Helwig’s clients took part in a focus group to discuss their feelings about the service.

One said, “It’s just an awesome program, I wish it could be everywhere in every city. You can’t stop people from doing what they’re doing but you can reduce the harm.”

Outside Colorado, SEP (Syringe Exchange Programs) have been around since the 1980s, and there is plenty of data available about them. A report found on the Center for Disease Control website states, “An impressive body of evidence suggests powerful effects from needle exchange programs. Studies show reduction in risk behavior as high as 80 percent, with estimates of a 30 percent or greater reduction ofHIV in IDU.”

According to the CDC, “the cost per HIV infection prevented by SEP has been calculated at $4,000 to $12,000, considerably less than the estimated $190,000 medical costs of treating a person infected withHIV.”

Advocates are sure to cite such statistics as they mount pressure on the Larimer County Board of Health. Adrienne Lebailly, a board of health member, said changes are coming soon.

“Probably early 2012 there will be some sort of decision,” she said. “We also have to consult with other entities, including the District Attorney (Larry Abrahamson), … who would prosecute people charged with crimes, along with local law enforcement. It’s going to focus more on the City of Fort Collins Police, rather than the County Sheriff, as the NCAP offices are physically located within the City of Fort Collins Police’s jurisdiction.”

Making matters more difficult for the NCAP program is the division that exists on the board of health. Lebailly’s prognosis wasn’t good.

“I would say it’s split, and I don’t know how it’s going to go.”

© 2012 Jamie M. Bradley All Rights Reserved