Author Archives: blogmaster

Jake Kinsman, energy tech grad finds success in energy industry

Jake Kinsman

Jake Kinsman

As a kid, Jake Kinsman, 29 of Morton, lived by a hydroelectric plant. He was always curious about what was inside that big concrete structure. “I always wanted to get into the energy industry, but figured I would never get the opportunity,” Kinsman, a hydroelectric mechanic at Tacoma Power, said. “I was working as a millwright and didn’t plan on switching careers until the recession laid me off.”

Kinsman qualified for the dislocated worker program and discovered that doors were beginning to open. “I was excited when I found out that I could go to Centralia College and enroll in the Energy Technology program,” Kinsman said. He enrolled in Centralia College’s Associate of Applied Science in Energy Technology program in spring of 2010. It gave him the foundation he needed to understand the industry.

Kinsman then began working for Tacoma Power in June 2011. “The first day I had butterflies like no other, but once I got to know the crew, I realized I would fit right in. After my orientation was done, they threw me right into the mix of things,” Kinsman said.

Kinsman graduated a year later and has been advancing in his career ever since. “Jake placed number one on the Hydroelectric Mechanics test for the City of Tacoma last summer,” Milt Hollingsworth, a fellow Centralia College classmate and Tacoma Power hydroelectric plant electrician, said. “His degree at Centralia College played a large part of his success.”

“It is impossible for me to describe a typical day at work. Every day is different. That is what I love most about this job. I could be working in the power houses one day, on the dam the next, and taking care of wildlife lands the next,” Kinsman said.

Kinsman also enjoys giving plant tours for the college’s energy technology students. “I like knowing that what I do every day makes a huge difference in the community,” Kinsman added. “Working in power generation is an extremely rewarding job and I get to work outside in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. Tacoma Power is a great company to work for in all aspects.”

Tacoma Power offers tuition reimbursement to its employees, has donated used equipment for educational purposes and lent staff to advise program curriculum. Pat McCarty, generation manager, also serves as the chairman for the center’s advisory board.

Katherine Kruger, dance student passionate about learning

Katherine Kruger

Katherine Kruger

A seven-year-old girl dreaming of owning her own dance studio: That was Katherine Kruger’s first memory of her passion and drive for dance. Now she’s 20 and enrolled full time at Centralia College, working toward that goal.

Kruger looks forward to opening a traveling dance studio to serve rural communities. Her plan is to have a studio based in Randle, Wash., with satellite studios in neighboring communities. “I would offer classes at a small studio as a base for a dance headquarters, and then set up other community centers to offer lessons,” she says.

At age seven, she performed in “The Sound of Music,” a production of the Fire Mountain Arts Council in Morton, where she acted, sang, and danced. After that, she performed in the traveling Missoula Children’s Theatre, and took part in MCT’s summer camp.

After dancing her way through lessons from age 16 at the Eatonville Dance Center, Kruger continued her dance studies while a student at Portland’s Lewis & Clark College, where she attended after graduating from White Pass High School. “I knew I loved dance and performing, but it wasn’t until I was at Lewis & Clark that I decided what to do with my life.”

Kruger says she chose Centralia College because “It’s convenient, I can live at home in Randle and commute.” Also, she was inspired by her mother, who went back to school when Kruger was in fourth grade and graduated from Centralia College.

As a first year Centralia College student (having transferred credits from Lewis & Clark), Kruger will graduate this June, then transfer to a four-year institution to complete her bachelor’s degree.

As a work-study student in the Office of College Relations, Kruger helps prepare for campus events and assists with social media. She selects and interviews students for the BlazerBite Student of the Week, posted on the college’s Facebook page ( The BlazerBite Student of the Week receives a coupon for a free coffee.

What’s the best thing about Centralia College? Kruger says, “I really like the class size. I have friends at other universities having trouble finding time to meet with professors. We have more opportunity to meet with the professor and be engaged in the subject.”

Kruger believes that Centralia College “is a really great school. I’m really pleased with my experiences here. The staff and faculty are helpful at getting the classes you need. It’s the same as classes at bigger colleges but a whole lot cheaper. It’s a really great thing!”

After completing her bachelor’s degree, her plan is to “be involved in different dance studios. I’ll see what opportunities arise,” she says. “I’m really passionate about learning, so it makes going to school easy. I’m just thankful for the opportunities to expand myself and have it [education] be so attainable, because I realize that’s not true for everyone. I enjoy my time here. It’s good stuff!”

Kruger is on her way to making dreams come true for other young dancers.

Raegan Nelson, All-Washington College Academic Team scholar

Raegan Nelson

Raegan Nelson

Raegan Nelson, an All-Washington team member representing Centralia College, knows what it means to lead a busy life. She is a Running Start student carrying a 3.97 GPA, and is majoring in cellular/molecular biology. She is the starting point guard and a team captain on her high school varsity basketball team, runs varsity track in the spring, works on the college campus as a biology lab aide, she organized and leads a Centralia College chemistry study group, and has evolved her role into that of a mentor. She is also active in the college’s Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and TRiO Club. In her spare time, if such a thing exists, she curls up with a good book or hangs out with friends.

This past summer she served as a lab assistant for Dr. Steve Norton (Centralia College biology professor) during the annual Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Academy for high school students. “I was going to pay to attend. Instead, I had the privilege of working at the event, helping Dr. Norton run his chick respiration lab and his heart anatomy/electrical conduction lab. I was very humbled to have been asked by Dr. Norton to assist him.”

Dr. Norton inspired her focus on biology. She said she was fascinated by his expertise and his passion for biology. “He motivated me to learn more about cellular biology. He’s a great professor who makes me want to dig deeper, to see what is going on,” Nelson said.

No doubt she is motivated. “I’ve always had a passion for science,” she said. “My mother and father instilled a love of learning in me. I have always loved to read and am constantly asking questions to learn more about the way the world works,” Nelson said. She plans to transfer to Central Washington University after she receives her high school diploma and two-year college degree this June.

Her goal is to earn a doctorate and to share her passion for learning. She isn’t certain what she will do once her education is complete but she is considering a college-level teaching career. “I am also thinking about cancer research. I want to investigate nanotechnology, which will be important in curing cancer,” Nelson said.

Nelson said she chose to attend Centralia College through the Running Start program. “It was an amazing opportunity. Not only would attending a community college…help me pay for my first two years,” Nelson said, “I would also be able to challenge myself in a way my high school classes were unable to do.”

A resource she found helpful when first coming to Centralia Collge was the introductory class, CC 101. “Coming to college was scary for me at first but CC 101 helped me get comfortable. The class decreases the stress incoming students have. I learned where things were and where to go for help. Plus, everyone was so friendly. That was very important,” Nelson said. Last year’s CC 101 experience was so influential that she became an event leader this year. “I’ve found that people really care and the professors truly care about their students’ education,” Nelson said.

Kristina Lawley, All-Washington College Academic Team scholar

Kristina Lawley

Kristina Lawley

Kristina Lawley, an All-Washington Team scholar, plans to become a Registered Nurse. Her first-born daughter, Abigail, passed away after only five days of life and that life-changing event is driving her.
“The nurses and respiratory therapists (during her daughter’s hospitalization) were amazing, never taking us out of the care loop for our daughter,” Lawley said. “Now, I feel it’s time to give back to other Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) families and their babies.” Her goal is to obtain her RN degree then her master’s in nursing and be in a position to provide “the best care that I can to families and their loved ones.”

Lawley will finish her associate degree at South Puget Sound Community College. She will then transfer to Pacific Lutheran University to work toward her bachelor’s in nursing.

As if nursing studies were not enough to occupy her time, Lawley, 34, stays active as a wife and mother of three- and four-year old daughters. She is a Certified Nursing Assistant and was a primary care provider for an elderly individual and now helps care for up to 10 residents at the Mother Joseph Care Center in Olympia.

“There is a tremendous need in providing care here and I love working in this environment,” Lawley said.

While a student at Centralia College, she joined Phi Theta Kappa, the two-year college honor society, and served as a tutor in the writing center.

Lawley took a roundabout journey to college. She was born into a military family, lived in Germany, South Carolina, and Victory, Texas, where she graduated high school. While visiting her uncle, who lived in California, she fell in love with the West Coast.

She told herself she wasn’t ready for college. She moved to the Olympia/Lacey area and worked as a veterinarian tech for several years before she joined the army in 2004 and became a signal support specialist and met the soldier who would become her husband. Not too much later she was discharged from the army while her husband continued his military career.

The couple relocated to Rochester where Lawley began to entertain notions of a college education and a career as a nurse. She felt she had a debt to repay.

“A friend told me about Centralia College so I visited the campus and loved it. It’s an intimate campus, easy to find everything. Everyone was so friendly, that really drew me in,” Lawley said. Although new to the campus, she wasn’t treated as a stranger.

She was also impressed with the help she received from her advisor, Dale Carroll. “She was always there for me, very helpful and always willing to listen and I mean really listen. That was very important to me,” Lawley said. “She took the time needed to explain what I needed to know and to answer my questions.”

Centralia College proved to be an important place for Lawley as she moves toward her career goal in nursing. “This is really a good school with really helpful people,” Lawley said. “There’s a lot of diversity among the students and the teachers are willing to listen to all points of view. I appreciate that.”

Zak Luker, diesel technology student

Zak Luker

Zak Luker

Raised by his grandparents, Zak Luker had what he likes to call a “different than normal” childhood. Although he excelled as an athlete at W.F. West High School, he didn’t apply himself and certainly didn’t see himself pursuing a college education.

After some prodding from his grandparents, especially his grandmother Bonnie Luker, the first to graduate college in his family, Luker agreed to give college a try.

He first attended classes in the Centralia College criminal justice program. After a year he realized that criminal justice wasn’t for him, and withdrew. Luker spent the next year working at different dead-end jobs, and after more than a little prodding from his grandparents this time, he decided to give college one more try, entering the diesel technology program. This time it was a perfect fit.

Now in his second year, Luker maintains a nearly 4.0 GPA and is president of the college diesel club.

“Criminal justice didn’t fit, and I’ve always liked working on cars, so I thought I’d give the diesel tech program a try,” Luker said. “I couldn’t have made a better choice, the instructors are great, and the hands-on learning of how to work on large diesel engines is a lot of fun.”

Though Luker is an excellent student, it’s through the diesel club and the support of its members that he really stands out. The diesel club works on a variety of activities and fundraisers on and off campus. Members are busy year-round raising money for scholarships through firewood raffles, helping with clothing drives for kids, food drives for local food banks, removing invasive species in the Kiser Natural Outdoor Learning Lab at the college, or helping with the foundation’s annual kickoff dinner. Then there’s the popular “touch a truck” event for school children and the diesel club entry of a semi-truck in the Christmas and tractor parades every year.

“I like to keep busy and I get to meet a lot of people when I work in the community,” Luker said. “Growing up here, it’s like helping my family and friends.”

Once Luker finishes school he plans to enter the proposed Bachelor of Applied Science in Diesel (BASD) program at Centralia College. If approved, it would be only the fourth program of this kind in the country and the first community college to offer it.

Vet finds success in second chance at Centralia College

Patrick Zandecki

Patrick Zandecki

Fresh out of Rochester High School in 1989, Patrick Zandecki knew a career in the military was the route he would follow. He did enroll at Centralia College, took a few classes, got scared and left.

“I had zero confidence,” Zandecki said. “I was convinced that I was not going to be able to go to college.”

That attitude confirmed his next move, a career in the army. Zandecki spent 13 years in a mix of active duty and National Guard service that found him as a front-line soldier in Operation Desert Storm and later in Iraqi Freedom. He also served as a member of the National Guard pulling security duty in Salt Lake City during the 2002 Winter Olympics and later in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.

Along the way he married, witness the birth of two of his children and the adoption of a third.

Then a different reality moved in.

In 1999, his wife was diagnosed with cancer. She died in 2007 leaving him to raise the kids. To further complicate things the army wanted to station him overseas, which could create problems with his parenting responsibilities. He shopped around for a military occupation that would fit him but nothing appealed. In 2008 he was granted a hardship discharge.

He turned to alcohol to deal with the pain in his life. He was, however, sober enough to realize that education could make a difference. He returned to Centralia College, shaken and still lacking confidence. But he needed to start his education campaign to restart his life.

“This is where the people at Centralia College made the difference,” Zandecki said. “I came here with problems and wasn’t sure where I would be going. The teachers and staff kept me on task. They wouldn’t let me quit. They pulled me up time and time again. I can never say enough about how everyone at this college helped me.”

More than course content, Zandecki said, “Instructors like Randy Johnson (associate professor of English), taught me to overcome the roadblocks I put up. I didn’t think I could do English and he encouraged me, worked with me, and showed me that I could. Pat Pringle (associate professor of earth sciences) stood by me in ways I can’t describe. That was important.”

Zandecki also credits other instructors with providing counseling, tutoring, and caring attitudes that “are getting me through,” he said. “They looked past my problems and my feelings in a way that I couldn’t. Each one is an amazing person.”

With support from the college faculty and staff, he has marched from a life as a hard drinking soldier and a person who could barely make two words come together in a written sentence, to an individual who has not tasted alcohol in over two years and can stand in front of hundreds of people to deliver a presentation.

Then Larry McGee, executive director of the bachelor degree program, grabbed him and wouldn’t let go.

“He told me I couldn’t quit, that I needed to keep going. He showed me what I needed to do to get into the bachelor’s program,” said Zandecki. “He taught me to believe in myself.” And Zandecki paid attention.

While members of the college faculty kept Zandecki engaged and on track, it was still his work that made success possible. This June he will be in the first Centralia College Bachelor of Applied Science in Management graduating class.

And there’s another successful outcome to his time at Centralia College: he received coaching on how to apply for a job. It paid off and now Zandecki is the Veterans Benefit Specialist for Lewis County.

“I have landed a job caring for my fellow veterans,” he said. “I can do something important to help others.”

He credits everyone at Centralia College for his achievement. “They (faculty, staff and students) are more than mentors to me, they are friends, family, teachers, and fellow students. They are the driving force that gave me the skills, and confidence I have today,” Zandecki said. “I have gained my confidence to the point where I will be able to stand with the most elite of students at Centralia College.”

Former student now teaches energized robotics program

David Peterson

David Peterson

David Peterson, the college’s youngest Electronics, Robotics, and Automation (ERA) faculty member, is taking the college’s program to new heights. Literally.

Peterson helped mastermind the successful launch of the college’s physics and electronics clubs’ near space vehicle this past July. Students were able to launch and retrieve the vehicle, carrying data recording equipment. The vehicle, a specialized weather balloon, reached 90,000 feet. Retrieval was handled with the aid of an onboard GPS device. (See Physics & Electronics students launch near space vehicle)

“We have big plans for next year’s launch,” Peterson said. “Instead of a parachute, we’ll have a radio controlled glider taking live video as we control the descent.”

This type of activity reflects Peterson’s passion for his work as an ERA instructor and his desire to get students involved in meaningful activities.

One of the big challenges he faces in teaching is the constant change in technology. It’s estimated that the average cell phone today has 64 times more computing capability available in the computers that first sent man to the moon. And with advancements in and use of technology in everything from computers to cars, it’s estimated that technology now doubles every two years.

Training students in the basics and helping them deal with change are strengths of the program, and delivering skilled electronics techs is the reason why the Centralia College ERA program boasts of a 100 percent hire rate for last June’s graduates.

This success rate is almost routine for ERA graduates, prime targets of companies such as Intel and Honeywell.

And Peterson is pushing students into worlds where electronics and robotics thrive. His office has several “robotic devices” controlled by his computer. Those devices sit around the electronics lab waiting for students to make them work. These are basic to the future of the program and the working world.

Peterson, while the newest ERA instructor, is not new to the college.

As a Running Start student, he was the 2007/08 Associated Students president. After graduation he earned his bachelor degree in mechanical engineering from Washington State University-Vancouver, and now plans to earn a master’s degree.

Because of his drive and desire for student success, Peterson, now 24, is one of the youngest instructors to be accepted to tenure track at Centralia College. He is quickly building on an already solid electronics program.

“The ERA program requires me to constantly learn new things and keep up on new technology,” Peterson said. “I try to teach to the future so that students are ahead of their peers when they enter the workforce.”

Peterson also works to bring electronics and robotics to the community by helping to advise robotics clubs at the middle school and high school levels. He is also responsible for starting last year’s robotics competition at the college.

“I wanted local kids to have the experience of a robotics competition without the high cost of the national competitions,” Peterson said. “Technology is where the industry is headed and I wanted them to have the chance to see this first hand.”

In addition to his other community involvement, Peterson also works with the local economic development committee to help bring high-tech industries to the area.

“With my connections and understanding of the industry, I hope to help the committee attract sustainable living-wage jobs to the area,” Peterson said.

See the Electronics Robotics Automation program website for more information.

Kristin Jensen overcomes hurdles en route to BASM

Kristin Jensen

Kristin Jensen

The demands of being a single mom raising two high school boys with college aspirations led Kristin Jensen to the conclusion that she needed a bachelor’s degree to help her compete for a higher paying job.

“I love my job as a legal assistant (working in the Office of the Attorney General in Olympia) but I need a better paying job so that I can help my boys go to college,” Jensen said. “I’ve been with the Office of the Attorney General for seven years, and there are job opportunities that I’ve missed out on because I didn’t have a bachelor degree.”

Jensen, born into a military family, spent much of her youth moving from base to base in the United States and Europe. She joined the military at the age of 19 and went into military intelligence. In the 1980s she was stationed in the Persian Gulf region as part of Operation Desert Shield. Rising to the rank of sergeant, her prospects for a career looked good, given her language skills.

But things change. Her Polish language skills didn’t mesh with the Army’s need for people who spoke Arabic. After four years she opted out, developing her life on the civilian side.

Once Jensen, now 45, set her sights on returning to school, she recognized that she hadn’t been to college since her military days more than 20 years in her past. She also knew that she needed to finish her associate degree before entering a program to earn her bachelor degree.

But those hurdles would not deter Jensen from reaching her goals.

She chose Centralia College’s Bachelor of Applied Science in Management (BASM) program and met with staff to find out what she needed to do to get enrolled.

Jensen first needed to finish her two-year degree and did so taking classes, mostly online, for five consecutive quarters through South Puget Sound Community College. She graduated with her degree this past summer and did so with an impressive 3.9 GPA.

“My youngest son and I had a competition to see who could get the highest GPA,” Jensen said. “I want to set a good example for my boys, and if I can work full-time, go to school, and then come home and fix dinner, they have no excuse not to do their best.”

Jensen is grateful to have the support of her coworkers and her boss, Solicitor General Noah Purcell, for allowing flexibility in her work schedule while she attends classes two nights a week in the BASM program.

“Kristin is smart, talented, and dedicated, and I am very happy that she can continue her education in the BASM program at Centralia College,” Purcell said. “It seems like a great fit for her, and I am excited that she is pursuing this opportunity.”

Jensen did extensive research when looking at bachelor programs. “I needed to find a program that would fit with work and in my life. The BASM program fit perfectly with the hybrid format, classes just two nights a week and the rest online,” Jensen said. “And with the traffic in Tacoma, commuting to Centralia was an easy choice.”

STEM students break science barrier with presentation

Christina Williams & Colleen Suter

Christina Williams & Colleen Suter

Two Centralia College Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) scholarship students, Christina Williams and Colleen Suter, set a major milestone for themselves and the college when they presented their capstone research projects at the Northwest Scientific Association (NWSA), 84th annual conference held in March in Portland, Ore.

This was the first time community college students have been invited to present research to the NWSA since the organization’s inception in 1923, according to Pat Pringle, Centralia College professor of geology.

“This was an incredible opportunity for the students and a huge honor for the college,” Pringle said. “It gave them an opportunity to present scientific research like students at the undergraduate level do.”

The students presented scientific research on evidence of an earthquake dating back thousands of years. Their research may even suggest findings of a mega-thrust earthquake that was previously unknown.

Suter’s research focused on evidence of the prehistoric earthquake, which may have created a massive rock slide at Washington’s Glacier Lake.

Williams’s research focused on a submerged forest located in the Puget Sound lowlands.

Using Centralia College’s tree ring labs, one of only two such labs in the state, the students analyzed submerged fossilized tree ring samples to help date their findings.

“The opportunity for scientific research (at Centralia College) has been incredible,” Williams said. “The facilities at the college rival that of many large universities.”

Williams attended Centralia College in the Adult Basic Education (ABE) program, first earning her GED, and then earning her Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) credential. She worked several years in that field then, at age 27, returned to college and earned an associate degree in chemistry. Williams will be attending WSU-Vancouver this fall to study neuroscience.

Suter attended Centralia College as a Running Start student more than a decade ago, but due to personal issues never continued on with her education. Now at 32, she has earned her associate degree in science.

Spurred on by environmentally caused health issues and a passion for the environment, Suter will be attending The Evergreen State College to study environmental toxicology.

“The science department and faculty are incredible,” Suter said. “The encouragement and support we received made all of the difference in just how far we were able to go in our education.”

Both students are 2013 honor graduates and were instrumental in establishing the Science Club. Both were instrumental in water quality testing of China Creek as it flows through the college’s KNOLL.

“Christina and Colleen are amazing with incredible futures ahead of them,” Pringle said. “They are determined and talented students and it has been a privilege to work with them.”

(Note: In higher education, capstone courses, also known as senior seminars, offer undergraduate students nearing graduation the opportunity to summarize, evaluate, and integrate some or all of their college experience. Research projects for STEM students can also be included.)

Grad finds success from college CET studies

Heather Kolowinski

Heather Kolowinski

Heather Danielle Kolowinski came to Centralia College following her layoff after 10years as an interior designer. She evaluated her skills and interests and, coupled with suggestions from a close friend, embarked on a Civil Engineering Technology (CET) course of study.

“When I returned to Centralia College full time I still did not have a clear goal in mind for my future career. I knew I wanted financial stability in a growingindustry and felt that engineering could provide that,” Kolowinski said.

As she began her studies in the CET program, she realized she was at the right college.

“I was impressed with the quality of education at Centralia College. Expectations were clear and the homework load was quite manageable. When I would talk about projects and coursework, my friends in the industry would remark on how it sounded like I was getting a more practical education than they had at a four-year university,” Kolowinski said. “They wished they too had received more hands on experience with surveying, industry software, and creating layouts in AutoCAD.”

She cited a number of strengths of the CET program. Headlining the list was the helpfulness of the faculty and staff.

“They were always approachable and helpful. My instructors were highly encouraging and some will even be lifelong friends and colleagues,” she said.

She also found connection with fellow students.

“Throughout the CET program I became very close to my classmates. We were an unlikely group of individuals with diverse backgrounds,” said Kolowinski. “I came from interior design, another student came from 20 years in banking, and others came from construction. Our common ground was an interest in the program. The structure of the program kept all of us together from the beginning to end and this was a huge advantage.”

Kolowinski said this connection helped them to motivate each other and to work together to complete assignments.

But there was more to Kolowinski’s college career than success in the classroom (she graduated with highest honors in 2010). During her sophomore year she joined the women’s golf team where she became friends “with a super group of girls much younger than myself, and built many lasting memories.”

She said she was able to use what she learned during her time at Centralia College to have a successful career and for building blocks for further education.

After her short career in the CET field, Kolowinski went on to The Evergreen State College to earn her bachelor’s degree. She credits Centralia College for the foundation that helped her succeed in her studies.

Looking back on her time at Centralia College, she credits Jacob Lund, CET associate professor, for his support.

“Jake is personable, approachable, knowledgeable, and encouraging. To this day I correspond with him about my progress and also to see how the current students are coming along. He is one of the best instructors I have ever had. His lesson plans are well thought out and set up so that one may learn easily and be successful,” she said.

“I hope to find a career that incorporates field work, lab based studies, and independent research,” Kolowinski said. “I do know that I will continually draw upon the knowledge I gained from the (CET) program.”


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