Category Archives: Summer 2011

STEM scholar Rich Casey recognized at CC

Rich Casey

Rich Casey

Transportation made mostly out of paper products might be laughable to most but it is serving as an engineering challenge for Rich Casey, a Centralia College STEM scholar and returning combat veteran. He and two other Centralia College students constructed paper-made, human-powered modes of transportation as part of a team class project. Casey put together a 90 percent paper bike that he rode in a state-wide contest.

Casey is a second year engineering student who received a prestigious STEM scholarship, which provided $10,000 to pay three quarters of tuition, books, lab fees and help with other expenses. Casey’s path to his early academic success is somewhat by happenstance. After what he labels as a less than spectacular high school career, he joined the Army and was sent to Ft. Lewis. He completed a 15-month tour of duty in Iraq. Life took another turn when on a blind date he met Kathleen Nicholas, the woman who would become his wife and they started working on growing a family. But even after his four-plus years in the Army, marriage and a first child, college wasn’t on Casey’s to-do list.

“Then the economy started going south and there weren’t that many job opportunities for me,” said Casey. He applied for a job with the state patrol and the sheriff’s office but without success. The couple recognized that, especially with children, the smart thing to do would be to get a college education. Wife Kathleen entered and completed the college’s registered nursing program. “We decided we should both be college graduates,” said Casey. His wife’s extended family, area residents, offered babysitting services, giving the couple more time for school and homework.

Originally Casey planned on a career in energy technology and enrolled in that program. “I kept asking how this works, why this works and the response was always, well, this is something an engineer would know or an engineer would do,” said Casey. It was his natural curiosity that drove him to make the switch to engineering. He began that course of study in summer quarter 2009.

“I called my wife one afternoon and asked what if I was in school for four years. She said she’d support me whatever I needed to do.” There was still a lot of work in front of him. Casey needed refresher math courses and started with the pre-college offerings. “I took a lot of classes that didn’t count toward my degree but I took them to get up to speed,” he said, and it was worth it.

There came a realization that he understood engineering and was good at it. “With math classes, I’d look at the board and understand (problems and formulas) and say how do I know this stuff? I had a classmate who I thought was unbelievable smart and he’d be asking me questions,” said Casey.

The couple now has three children and the STEM scholarship has been put to use purchasing a computer for school work, appliances and other household items necessary to support a family. “The scholarship makes a tremendous difference,” he said. “We have been able to get a lot of the things we’ve needed.”

He will transfer to Saint Martin’s University in Lacey this fall to get his degree in mechanical engineering. He may also continue his education to earn a master’s degree. At some point, the family will decide where to work. While extended family offers an attraction to stay local Casey may need to move to work in an area of his interest: working for the military, a job in the automotive industry or working on roller coasters. “That would be a lot of fun,” he said.

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Former Lady Blazer basketball star Jen Solberg remembers CC

Jen Solberg

Jen Solberg

Jen Solberg was a star on the Centralia College Lady Blazer basketball team that got the first women’s team banner hoisted in the college gym. She played on teams (2002-05) that placed higher in the conference than any other Centralia College women’s team.

She remembers those accomplishments and the way the college helped prepare her for life after graduation. “Centralia College offered me a scholarship and that made a tremendous difference. It was that scholarship and the opportunity to play basketball that brought me here,” she said. It was the friendships she built and the support from the college that helped her succeed on and off the basketball court. “The relationships with team members was really important. It was exciting,” said Solberg.

The former star was honored this past winter quarter when she was one of two individuals inducted into the college Sports Hall of Fame. “I very much appreciated the honor and the recognition,” said Solberg. “It is something that means a lot to me but so much of what I was able to do was because of the members of my team. They all helped make our successes possible.”

Solberg said that playing basketball was a big part of her life but she knew that the education she received was also important. She is currently planning to get to work on a master’s degree and is planning to get involved in social work. “Decisions will come. I know that I really love working with kids and I’m excited about the challenge of working with troubled youth. It’s important for me to help others.” Sounds like she has a clear idea of where she wants to take her career. Her Centralia College experience laid a foundation of support.

“There’s no doubt that Centralia College was very helpful. I knew that I’d get the help I needed from my teachers. The support they provide is huge,” said Solberg. The small school atmosphere — one that features faculty and staff who are friendly and willing to help — were important to Solberg. “This is something that helped me meet more people and make lasting friends,” she said.

While she is quick to give credit to faculty who have nurtured her as she accomplished her classroom studies, she gave credit to Dr. Jim Walton, college president, and Steve Ward, vice president for Finance and Administration for their support. “They came to the games and encouraged us as individuals and as a team. They knew who I was and asked how I was doing. These things made a difference,” Centralia College has made a difference in her life, she said. And that’s just another part of what makes Centralia College a special place.

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