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From 2011 to 2013, and 2016 to 2017 I have had the opportunity to work at the Rochester Community and Technical College in a variety of capacities, including as a writer. These are some of the articles and opinion pieces I wrote.

"Funding RCTC renovation overdue" (April 2017)

I ghost-wrote this short opinion piece to represent The Echo staff's opinion on the then-current discussions about using tax money to make much-needed repairs to the RCTC campus. The humorous touches were included of my own volition. RCTC did not make the final cut on this bonding bill. Evidentally, politicians believe that football is more important than the education of the citizens they serve.

One of the certainties of life is taxes. The other, of course, is death. The former is usually preferable; it’s relatively less painful and can sometimes have good things come from it.

Case in point, there has been this idea, supported by Gov. Mark Dayton, to use tax money for renovating Plaza and Memorial Halls.

Programs like this, codified through bonding bills, are nothing new — in fact, RCTC was nominated but ultimately excluded from a bill last year. This year, we have another chance to be included. It’s not a given; the amount of funding and the exact list of projects for this year’s bill are still being negotiated, and we don’t know when a final verdict will be reached. It would be good if we get on the bill. The buildings really do need the work. There is no danger of them falling apart around us, but there are mold problems. And it would be nice to get things squared away before we start having to patch things up Red Green-style (We call dibs on using the duct tape).

It’s also an investment for the future; today’s college students will be the people running the country. A better environment would hopefully be more conducive to teaching and learning.

We’ll find out for sure when the bill gets finalized, but if the lawmakers can scrape together a tax plan to fund the new Vikings stadium, it seems only fair that we should have a similar chance. Why let the football fans have all the fun?

"CAD student is a guitar stand hero" (December/January 2016/17)

A human interest story, this article was the result of interviewing an RCTC student on an unique project she had produced.

Last semester, RCTC student Mandi Mason displayed her Computer-Aided Design project, a four-guitar stand, at the CAD Department’s open house.

“For my final project, I was kind of just playing around with some bigger ideas,” Mason said. “At my house, I’ve got plaster walls and I have a lot of guitars, and I can’t keep putting holes in the walls to hang up all the guitars. I had a need, and I wanted to kind of fix that need, so my guitars were taken care of and my walls were left intact.” Mason was encouraged by instructors Pam Benson and Jacquie Deml-Mauseth to expand the project to include building the design she had created.

It took two weeks to design the stand using SolidWorks software, one day to cut the wood with a CNC router and three more days, spread across two weeks, to assemble the stand. The wood was stained, with fabric wrapped around the guitar’s alcove. For further decoration, Mason created an clear acrylic, LED-backlit back plate. The surface of the plate has a laser-etched recreation of the blueprint from the Les Paul guitar patent. The etching was made in CorelDraw. This semester, Mason is planning to design and build a dove-joint drawer for installing into the stand’s base before declaring the project complete.

“I had no intentions of actually building it,” Mason said about the stand. “It was kind of a dream. I didn’t think I’d be able to do it.”

Mason has since designed and built a second guitar stand for commission for a musician who saw the original on the internet. She is working on her associate of applied science degree, with an emphasis in computer-aided drafting technology. She hopes to use the skills she has learned for designing furniture and prosthetics.

"The Force is with ‘Rogue One’" (December/January 2016/17)

I am a huge Star Wars fan (follow the movies, collect the books and comics, download the Star Wars Timeline Gold every update, the whole nine yards). Because of this interest, I asked to write a review of the then-recently released Rogue One movie for the Entertainment section of the Echo. I also published a "director's cut" of this review on my blog here.

The MacGuffin of “Star Wars: A New Hope” was the stolen Death Star plans. While the non-canon Star Wars tie-ins have offered various accounts of how Princess Leia got them, we’ve finally gotten the true story on the big screen with “Rogue One.”

Twenty-two-year-old criminal Jyn Erso finds herself extracted from an Imperial prison by the Rebel Alliance. Intelligence has reported the rumors that a secret Imperial planet-killing super weapon — the Death Star — developed by Jin’s long-missing father, Galen Erso, and Director Orson Krennic, is nearing completion. The Alliance needs to find it first and make Jyn a deal: her freedom in exchange for her help in stopping it.

This desperate mission throws Jyn in with various disenfranchised individuals, such as rebel spy, Cassian Andor, and his droid, K-2SO, Imperial defector Bhodi Rook, former Guardians of the Whills, Chirrut Îmwe and Baze Malbus, and extremist freedom fighter, Saw Gerrera, as time runs out and Krennic’s dreams come ever closer to allowing the Empire to rule the Galaxy unchecked.

As the first non-Saga "Star Wars" movie since 2008’s “The Clone Wars,” the big question was if the franchise could support a non-Skywalker film. The answer is a definitive “yes.” While characters may be somewhat subservient to the plot, the actors give performances that make them stand out. Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso is a standout lead, with the scenes involving her and Jin’s father (Mads Mikkelsen), creating the main emotional core as her story arcs from jaded follower to leader.

K-2SO steals the show with “Firefly” and Disney veteran Alan Tudyk’s deadpan delivery, with Îmwe and Malbus (Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen) grabbing the rest. Îmwe’s mantra, “I am one with the Force, the Force is with me” will probably become “Rogue One’s” signature line.

Ben Mendelsohn is wonderful as the grasping Krennic, although the script gives him far less to do than the development he received in the essential-to-read prequel novel, “Catalyst.” Beyond the principles, there are a ton of cameos and minor roles from various returning characters. These familiar faces range from returning actors to computer wizardry, but all are welcome, with Darth Vader’s (voiced by James Earl Jones) brief return being the standout.

“Rogue One’s” recreations of the "New Hope"-era are perfect and flawlessly work with the originals and are packed with in-jokes of all kinds that create the atmosphere and draw viewers into the world. All this is set to the music of master composer Michael Giacchino, whose score is unique but seamless with John Williams iconic themes.

“Rogue One” is a new, somewhat grittier look into the Star Wars world, but one that earns its place in the main series many times over and proves that Disney’s success with “The Force Awakens” wasn’t a fluke.

"Long-awaited CTECH building opens at Heintz Center" (December/January 2016/17)

This was one of the "hard news" stories I wrote for the Echo.

This semester, the CTECH/STEM Center has opened for the first time. Located next to the Heintz Center, the facility is designed to help prepare high school students for college and work in CTECH/STEM-related fields.

Owing its origins to Collaboration Among Rochester Educators (CARE), the Heintz Center had been holding health science classes for high schoolers, until space issues forced them, with the assistance of the Mayo Clinic, to lease alternative facilities from IBM.

“We knew it was a model that was working well,” said Michelle Pyfferoen, RCTC’s Dean of Career and Technical Education and Business Partnerships.

The new building was planned by CARE to provide a permanent base for the program and to expand it to include other CTECH/STEM subjects, as would be of benefit to the community. This plan was started about a decade ago, with RCTC, WSU, the Rochester Public Schools system, Workforce Development Center, the Rochester Chamber of Commerce, and the city of Rochester itself acting as partners and collaborators in the undertaking.

Taxes, collected in 2012, were used in part to fund the construction of the center, which began last year. The use of tax funding was important.

“So, you oftentimes have resources that focus on higher ed, and you have resources that focus on K-12, and to blend those two, to find a source of funding, was difficult,” Pyfferoen said. “And so that’s why the city, the extension of the sales tax, was a good source of funds, because it’s serving the needs of this community.”

The decision to expand to a full building instead of a new wing to the Heintz Center was decided because of zoning and to allow space for classes related to non-medical careers. Of the seven programs offered, hospitality, health sciences, and manufacturing courses are currently housed in the CTECH/STEM Center, with the others held in the Heintz Center proper. In addition to preparing high schoolers for higher education and careers in the community, the CTECH/STEM Center and Heintz Center will be sharing equipment across education programs. The CTECH/STEM Center program is currently running this fall in their first semester.

"Mutschelknaus, Tweeten named 2013 Outstanding Educators" (March 2013)

This article was written about a pair of teachers that were nominated for a job award. I not only wrote about it, but also interviewed the the teachers. In my college journalism career, this is the article I'm the most pleased with.

English instructor Mike Mutschelknaus and speech instructor Taresa Tweeten are the newest recipients of the RCTC Outstanding Educator of the Year award.

Nominations for the award come from faculty and students, mostly from the later. "It meant a lot to me," Mutschelknaus said, "that a student from last semester thought that I was worthy of being selected for this." On average around a hundred nominations will be submitted. A board comprised of previous faculty who have won the award will then select six to eight nominees to prepare a portfolio for review. The board then chooses two winners from these. Only full-time faculty are eligible for the citation, although the dean will select two adjuncts to also win the award.

Mutschelknaus and Tweeten have been nominated before, but this is the first time that either of them have won and assembled a portfolio. Tweeten described the work involved by saying: "It reminded me of my dissertation." "That was quite a bit of work to put together," Mutschelknaus said regarding his. Indeed it was. In it, the nominee includes student evaluations, reference letters from students and faculty, an explanation of their teaching method, list of publications, service out of the classroom, plans for improving their craft, and a resume.

Mutschelknaus and Tweeten are also eligible for the state-wide Board of Trustees Award for Excellence in Teaching award. Their portfolios are sent in as judging criteria. The winners of that will be announced by April 17, when there will be a reception. Locally, Mutschelknaus and Tweeten will be honored at a reception on April 30, which will be open to faculty, staff, and students.

Receiving the award has been regarded as a meaningful experience for the two teachers. "It's going to make me a more innovative teacher," Mutschelknaus said, regarding receiving the award and the work he put into the portfolio.

"It really was a wonderful experience. It was really hard to do at the time, but, reflecting, it helps you to see how much you really do do," Tweeten said about her experience.

Opinions of the citation's value aren't limited to this year's winners. History- Social Science instructor Chad Israelson – a previous recipient and current board member — when reflecting on the Outstanding Educators award, said: "One thing it shows me is how many good teachers we have at RCTC."

"Space tile comes to RCTC" (September 2011)

This was the very first article I was assigned to write. I volunteered since it sounded interesting, although the actual display was anticlimactic.

A piece of the final frontier has come to RCTC.

This past July, the college obtained an unused space shuttle tile through "Space Shuttle Tiles for Teachers." It is a program that allows academic centers to apply for the tiles for educational use. Started in 2010, the program's goal, according to NASA's website, is "to preserve this great history and inspire that next generation."

Colleges that wish to apply must register an account through the website. Applicants are screened. Once they are cleared, the college can request a tile. Tiles are distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis, with colleges eligible for one tile. The only charge for the tile is $24.40 for shipping and handling.

The tile itself is a white square approximately 8 inches by 8 inches, 2 inches thick, and capable of withstanding temperatures of 300 degrees Fahrenheit. These tiles make up the outer layer of NASA space shuttles, forming the thermal shield layer that protects the shuttle during re-entry. The college's tile is displayed in a wood and Plexiglas case, along with a small American flag, a shuttle model, a diagram of tile placement, and a digital picture frame that cycles between relevant photographs.

"I think it turned out quite well," said Dennis Kronebusch, a member of RCTC's Business and Workforce Education group. Kronebusch was responsible for arranging the college's application for the tile earlier this year. He and other members of Business and Workforce Education assembled the display case. The tile and its display are in what Kronebusch described as "Beta stage." The case was made to be portable because there are plans to have it moved to different locations on campus, such as Goddard Library. Different slides may be added to the display's slideshow to make it more informative. In the near future the tile might not be alone; Kronebusch is hoping to apply for similar NASA artifacts when a new batch becomes available this September.

The RCTC tile is currently on display in room HC-107 in the Heintz Center.