Category Archives: Fall 2013

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.”


STEM student finds success in Energy Tech career

Travis Kinney

Travis Kinney

Travis Kinney, 28, of Rochester, learned early in life that hard work pays. He dropped out of school and worked as a hard laborer for seven years.

“I had moments when I thought about returning to school,” Kinney, who earned his GED in 2007, said. “It was just so overwhelming trying to think how to fit work and school together.”

Even with a newfound urge to continue his education, it seemed unattainable. Kinney got married, purchased a home and needed to pay bills. He worked in construction and as an iron worker before being laid off New Year’s Eve 2009.

That layoff opened the door to a new future.

“I worked for seven years and felt like I wasn’t going anywhere,” he added. “All I knew was hard labor – which motivated me to go back to school.”

When he was laid off, he took advantage of the college’s Worker Retraining Program and enrolled in the Energy Technology – Power Plant Operations program. He earned his Associate in Applied Science (AAS) in Energy Technology, and then returned to Centralia College to wrap up his pre-engineering requirements. Later he was accepted into an electrical engineering program at WSU-Vancouver.

“Attending Centralia College has helped me realize the importance of giving back to the community,” he said. “I am a STEM scholarship recipient and am very grateful for the contributions that directly affect me.”

At the Pacific Northwest Center of Excellence for Clean Energy (PNCECE) at Centralia College, Kinney was known for being focused, dedicated and determined (skills he claims students should hone in on to be successful). He balanced his time between being a full-time student, working two part-time jobs, and helping his wife with her business. Then in his “spare time,” he led projects to help students and the college.

Kinney led 17 energy tech students to inspect areas of energy inefficiencies within the college’s Technical Building. They examined the building envelope, calculated energy consumption of the electrical loads and lighting, and submitted three levels of retrofits. The college accepted some of the suggestions, including replacing the lighting system.

Rulon Crawford, Energy Tech assistant professor and the project’s advisor, said Kinney spent at least 80 hours of his own time leading the audit and writing the report – a report that was very well received.

“He was a quiet student,” Crawford said. “Then he shined through this report and was a huge asset to the energy program ever since.”

Kinney then worked with former pre-engineering student John Hofman and Centralia City Light in coordinating the outdoor clean energy lab, located on the NE corner of the Kiser Natural Outdoor Learning Lab (KNOLL). Kinney assisted with the project design, organized volunteer labor, and finished the project by coordinating the contractor and parts needed to install six solar panels. The panels work alongside the Energy Ball in producing clean energy for the college’s KNOLL and the college itself.

Students will use this lab to learn about solar and wind generating systems for years to come – and the college will not only receive electricity from the project, it will earn a tax credit as well.

“My goal is to partner our metering system with the science department’s weather tools to offer energy production and weather information online,” Kinney said. “It will be real-time data, which will be available to all students to use for research projects.”

There’s something personal that drives Kinney’s efforts.

“I saw a lot of smart students who ‘slacked off’ and didn’t take their educations seriously,” Kinney said.

His years of hard labor taught him how to focus and be dedicated. His career pathway will include power, instrumentation and system controls.

“Higher education is important to me because I have experienced life without an education,” he added. “My parents did not emphasize the importance of going to school. Neither one of them graduated, so I felt destined to be a manual laborer. I am determined to finish my bachelor’s degree so I can provide a good life for my family. I want to give my future children a more encouraging environment to succeed.”


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