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.”

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.”

Arlen Everist

Arlen Everist

Arlen Everist

Arlen Everist, a Centralia College graduate and currently a Meter Electrician Apprentice at Seattle City Light, was hired from a pool of 430 applicants in Feb. 2012. He understood that mastering math and electrical theory were vital in securing a job within the energy industry.

“The hiring process for Seattle City Light’s apprenticeship programs is extremely competitive and requires some prior technical education,” Karen DeVenaro, apprenticeship manager, said. “The (Energy Technology) program at Centralia College does a wonderful job preparing students for the demanding and exciting skilled-trades careers in the utility industry.”

During winter and spring quarters of 2012, Arlen worked full-time, took online classes and enrolled in night school twice a week to meet his apprenticeship and college requirements. Thanks to good time-management skills he was able to graduate on time with honors.

“Arlen was tenaciously driven by his studies and his work,” energy technology instructor, John Steidel, said, “and he was deeply interested in learning about the energy industry.”

At Centralia College, Everist learned electrical theory, parts of the electrical distribution system, technical math, and workplace safety.

“I use all of these things on a daily basis,” he said. “I also learned time management and good study habits. Part of my apprenticeship entails night school so (taking night classes at the college) was helpful as well.”

His instructors also prepped him with job interviewing skills.

“The interview process was exactly what the summer class with Rulon Crawford (first year energy tech instructor) prepared me for,” Everist added. “Having the practice in class and knowing what kinds of things I may be asked made me a lot more confident and prepared to me give good, detailed, and precise answers, as well as ask good questions.”

The Associate of Applied Science in Energy Technology/Power Operations program prepares students to compete for entry-level positions such as power plant operator, substation operator, technician, and other high voltage pre-apprentice and apprenticeship positions within the energy industry.

Coursework includes traditional sources of power generation, transmission, renewable energy, energy efficiency and smart grid technology which are transmitted via ITV from Centralia College to virtual classrooms at Grays Harbor, Peninsula, Wenatchee Valley and Spokane Community/IEL colleges.

As for his job at Seattle City Light, Everist enjoys being able learn new things and solve problems. Everist said. “Metering technology is always advancing so there is always more to learn. I also love working in various locations throughout the city, seeing new things and meeting new people,” Everist said.

Becoming an apprentice (a three-year position) meant joining the union. Everist is a member of IBEW Local 77.

“Being a union member means having excellent benefits,” he said. “It comes with high wages, clear workplace policies, and a high focus on safety.”

Everist hopes that in five years, he’ll have two years of experience as journey-level meter electrician at Seattle City Light and may even consider enrolling in an electrical engineering program.

He offers this advice to those in the energy programs: “Math and electrical theory are of vital importance to even pass the written tests for jobs, so work hard.”

Stephanie Schiele

Stephanie Schiele

Stephanie Schiele

By Edward Riley

Stephanie Schiele is a young lady who has turned her life around, found purpose through education, and is taking advantage of what Centralia College offers to lay the foundation for a solid future.

As a teenager Schiele was in trouble at home, in school and with the authorities.

“I wasn’t a good kid during my teenage years,” she said. “My parents divorced when I was 12 and I didn’t handle it well.”

Along the way she realized the need to turn her life around, and to find success not only for herself but also for her family. She recognized that education held the key for her and she enrolled at Centralia College.

Currently, Schiele is a second-year student in the energy technology (power operations) program. In addition to her studies, she has the added responsibility of serving as the Associated Students of Centralia College president.

Schiele is earning an Associate in Applied Science degree in power plant technology and will be graduating this spring with high honors.

She plans to attend The Evergreen State College this fall and is the recipient of an Evergreen Foundation Scholarship.

“I haven’t decided on a major yet, but I plan on studying environmental sciences with a focus on sustainable agriculture,” she said. “I’ll figure out the details along the way.”

Schiele speaks highly of the opportunities she’s had at the college and especially the wide variety of friends she’s made.
She recently returned from a 10-day field trip to South America offered through the college.

Students spent time living with the indigenous people and were able to visit multiple archeological sites containing Mayan ruins.

“It was an amazing experience,” Schiele said. “We really connected with the local people, I’ll never forget them, or the opportunity to travel to Central America.

As the student body president, Schiele has proven to be an effective leader while developing her leadership skills. Those skills will serve her well as she continues with her career goals.

Schiele is also the mother of two girls, Noelle age 4, and Paige age 6.

“I want to set a good example for my daughters,” she said. “I can’t just tell them to do the right things. I have to show them.” For her, a college education is the right thing.

She praises her family for support and the help family members have provided while she attends college, especially for believing in her when she had doubts about abilities.

Schiele also commends her long-time partner and the girls’ father Kyle Elliot.

“He took care of our girls and made it possible for me to focus on school,” she said. “I couldn’t have done it without him.”

She feels that people can overcome most any obstacles that keeps them from attending college. She’s proof that pushing yourself to go farther through education is one of the best ways to succeed.

“All of the struggles are definitely worth it,” she said. “You can’t let fear control your life, you’ll never know what you’ve missed if you do.”

Kristen Schoenherr

Kristen Schoenherr

Kristen Schoenherr

After graduating from Rainier High School, Kristen Schoenherr looked forward to life on a big university campus. She enrolled at Washington State University to fulfill that dream. While things were mostly satisfactory, she found she wasn’t able to check her passion for basketball.

“I really missed playing,” Schoenherr said. She was a talented player while in high school but only one college wanted her services. “I had a lot of fun playing and I realized I wasn’t ready to give it up,” she said. Following up on her desire to play basketball, and while in her first year at WSU, Schoenherr contacted Shane Schutz, Centralia College women’s basketball coach, about playing. That conversation, she said, was a bit awkward because Schutz was the only college coach who recruited her before she moved to Pullman.

“He said that my wanting to play here was music to his ears,” Schoenherr said. “And I certainly was excited.” She left WSU at the end of the year and came to Centralia College to pick up her athletic interests.

“Centralia College is a really good school. It’s an active campus, not just because I was able to play basketball but because there’s so much going on,” Schoenherr said. “I’ve made a lot of really good friends and I’ve had the opportunity to get involved in campus life.”

Schoenherr also had praise for members of the faculty.

“The teachers are very helpful, they are willing to assist when I ask for help,” she said. “Overall my teachers care, not just that I do well in the classroom but that I do well in my personal life. That’s one reason why I like it here.”

On the basketball court she was a leader offensively and defensively and was recognized by her coaches as a player who brought a competitive spirit and a positive attitude. She helped make the other players better. Schoenherr was the Northwest Athletic Association of Community College’s western region Most Valuable Player and the Freshman of the Year awards recipient.

Her goal is to enter sports broadcasting and ultimately to work on a national level. She appreciated her Radio/TV class because it gave her “hands-on” experience.

“I was surprised when I found out we would be able to create videos and work with cameras and computers to put videos together. I don’t think that was something I would have been able to do at WSU until I was a junior,” Schoenherr said.

“Centralia College is a good college and I certainly would recommend it. There are really good support services, tutors, opportunities to experiment and chances to get involved,” she said.

She isn’t sure just yet where she will go next year but she’s going to be sure it involves playing time on the basketball court. And this time maybe recruiters will pay closer attention.

Jeb Peterson

Jeb Peterson

Jeb Peterson

By Edward Riley

Attending Centralia College has become a family affair for Morton High School graduate Jebediah Peterson, his wife and stepdaughter. He is a second-year student in the Electronics, Robotics & Automation (ERA) program.

While Peterson works toward his Associate in Applied Science in ERA degree, he has also undertaken additional work enabling him to earn an Associate in Arts transfer degree.

He will graduate with both degrees this spring.

His goal is to go to work for Intel and perhaps a bit further down the road, earn an engineering degree. Centralia College, with its connection to the Hillsboro high-tech company, is a pipeline for trained workers. Over the years, many ERA students have been offered jobs, some even before they complete the program.

Making attending Centralia College the family activity of choice, wife Tania and stepdaughter Courtney Otterness also are attending. Tania is a second-year student and is the president of Rotaract, the college branch of Rotary, the international business and community volunteer organization.

In addition to her studies, her family, and her civic activities, Tania owns an entertainment company. Her experiences there and in Rotaract have helped her develop a stronger business venture. She will be taking time off from school to focus on her business after graduating.

Peterson’s stepdaughter Courtney started attending college classes this past fall as a Running Start student and has been following in her mother’s footsteps by getting involved in Rotaract.

While Peterson manages the responsibilities as a husband, father and student, this past fall he began teaching robotics programs part-time at Oakview Elementary School and Centralia Middle School.

His Centralia Middle School students recently won first place in multiple categories at a robotics competition held at the college, an indication that Peterson has learned his trade.

With a 10-year-old son at home, teaching children about robotics has become very important to Peterson.

“Robotics challenges kids and helps them to build problem-solving skills,” he said.

Peterson is the college’s Robotics Club treasurer and is on the board of the Lewis County Robotics Society.

He also enjoys acting and recently performed in The Evergreen Playhouse production of Shakespeare’s
A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Peterson speaks highly of the small classes at the college and the strong bonds he has with his ERA classmates. “We help each other out when one of us is struggling,” he said. “We are all in this together.”

Now that he is reaching his educational goals, Peterson has more confidence about his prospects as he enters the workforce.

“I’m applying for positions in the fabrication department at Intel,” he said. “I’ll have a much better shot than most because I’ll have two degrees.

“I wish more people knew about the programs at Centralia College,” he said. The cost of attending college may be lower than tuition at a four-year college, but the quality certainly isn’t, he said.

Chase Grimmett, on a career path to marine biology

Chase Grimmett

Chase Grimmett

by Ed Riley

Chase Grimmett, a Running Start student who was a top graduate in Rochester High School’s 2012 senior class, carries a clear vision of what he wants out of life.

As a high school student he played varsity football, basketball, and baseball and had the potential of attending several universities on scholarships based on his athletic skills. It is, however, academics that hold his passion and what he believes is the key to his success in life. He is now a second-year Centralia College student with plans to work in marine biology.

Grimmett will attend Western Washington University to study marine biology next fall and plans to focus on coral reef ecology.

Marine biology is the perfect career for Grimmett: he is passionate about the environment and is an certified scuba diver with deep water and cave dives in Hawaii and the Pacific Northwest to his credit.

“Finishing my associate degree at Centralia College makes a lot more sense financially. Besides, the college has the advanced science classes I need for my degree in marine biology. And the Environmental Science department has amazing instructors who are experts in their fields,” Grimmett said. “The support I’ve received from the faculty has been incredible, they have really helped guide me in the direction I need for my degree.”

In fact, Grimmett was accepted and offered partial scholarships to attend Oregon State University, the University of Oregon, and Western Washington University. Grimmett puts it this way, “The scholarships would have only paid for about 40 percent of my tuition; my family would have had to come up with the rest. That’s an incredible amount of money. I don’t want my family to go into debt for my education.” With two scholarships from the Centralia College Foundation to help pay the way, his overall college costs will be much more manageable.

Grimmett also has his family to thank for his recognition of the importance of education and his career direction. His mother works for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife department tracking endangered species, and his father is an instructor for special needs children.

In what little spare time Grimmett does have, he enjoys hiking and backpacking, and he takes lessons in Tae Kwon Do, and he still manages to work part time. Through his hard work and dedication, coupled with a clear vision for what he wants, he is certain to realize his dreams.

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