I'm at Century College in White Bear Lake, the first stop in an every-Wednesday initiative to visit MnSCU campuses to talk about students' outlook and also to hear some of their stories about their journey to the here and now. I'll start at 10:30 and here's how it'll work: I'll just quickly blog about who I'm talking to and indicate something about them that I find interesting.
update 3:04 p.m. - I couldn't get a wiFi signal out of the campus so I couldn't live blog. However I'll be posting a few dozen profiles over the next few hours.(1 Comments)
Posted at 3:18 PM on January 14, 2009
by Bob Collins
Ray Basques, a St. Paul native and current Maplewood resident, is concerned about the future of the economy and the rising unemployment rate. The veteran, who is disabled after getting cancer from Agent Orange in Vietnam, is trying to do something about it. He donates $1,000 a year to a scholarship at Century College in White Bear Lake, where he's been taking classes since 2004.
His generosity comes despite the government's attempt, he says, to cut his disability benefits from $2,600 a month to $1,300.
"It's another challenge of my life that I have to meet head on. I can only hope that things get better sooner or later," he says when I asked him about the economy. He spent decades as a printer before a cancerous tumor was removed in 2002. That industry, he says, is dying. And yet, that moment changed his life in a positive way, he says.
"In Vietnam, I was just glad to get out of there and I went right back into the factory (when he got back) and didn't use my GI benefits. When my tumor was taken out in 2002, it turned my life upside down. I got benefits that allowed me to go back to college."
He's not planning to go back to the working world. He always loved gardening so he went back to Century for a horticulture degree and his scholarship is given to deserving students pursuing a similar degree. He's content to take classes -- he's currently taking a class in psychology.
Times are tough all around, he acknowledges, but "this is one of the best parts of my life; this last five years have been a dream after being stuck in a factory environment," he said.
My hand-scrawled sign at the table I set up at Century College in White Bear Lake on Wednesday said conversations 25 cents. Terrence McBride, 24, of Inver Grove Heights was one of the first in line. He put 25 cents down. I put 25 cents down. "Whichever one of us enjoys the conversation more, the other one gets the money," I said.
"Anybody's life can get out of whack when they're looking at the peak of a mountain," McBride said when I asked him about looking at the challenge he faces in a bad economy. He's one of thousands of students across the state who are pretty sure better times are ahead, because in some ways, they've already arrived. In a challenging economy, he's biting off a daunting task in small bits.
McBride, who admits he "screwed up" when he was a teenager, was working at an auto dealership, performing oil changes when he saw which way the economy was heading. "There were firings and I have a six-month-old daughter and I wanted more job security," he said.
He wants to become an information technology specialist and he talks "when," not "if." He goes to school fulltime and works fulltime.
"How hard is that?' I asked.
"Not hard enough to keep me from doing it," he said. "If something is really important to you, there's nothing that can stop you." His girlfriend is a nursing student and they get by by cutting expenses. "We don't go to movies, we buy movies on demand, we don't go out to eat. I study and I go to work. In the long run, I'm relatively sure it's going to pay off."
Despite the bad economy, McBride says the work will pay off. "You can have any perspective on this whole economy that you want to, but people still have jobs. No journey is impossible if the first step is belief."
That's when I gave him the quarters.
He says two years from now he hopes to be doing an intership in "some sort of conglimerate, slowly working my way up the ranks. I've been down and out myself and I bring more maturity than a normal 24-year old." He says his girlfriend will be in nursing, and his daughter will be in preschool "to get a head start on her education."
"I don't want to raise my daughter as a statistic. I want her to have a choice as to which school she goes to. I want her to have me in her life. I'm a black guy with a daughter and there's so many prejudices about that. I want her to have as good of a life as anybody else," he said.
And what will he says to the kid in the auto dealership when he needs his car's oil changed? "Stay in school. Get into school if you can. Apply for financial aid if you need to. Set a small goal each day. That's what I did. I broke it down to tasks. Check out a school, pick a school, apply for financial aid, get books, arrange my schedule and work schedule, then all the pieces start fitting together."2 Comments)
"Our outlook for the future is we want to get the heck out of here," she said, bouncing one youngster on her knee as another begged for her attention nearby.
"Out of Minnesota?" I asked.
"Out of the United States," she said. "We're looking very seriously at moving to Canada after we both graduate. We're kind of fed up, especially with the health care situation. We feel completely abandoned. We've been in and out of coverage by the state or by the companies my husband's worked for and we just can't do it. When we graduate, we'll be in a much better position ... but we're, like, just forget it, we're not going to participate in the system anymore; we want out."
Her husband is a PhD candidate in biochemistry at the University of Minnesota. He graduated from Mankato State University after six years, went to work, then went back to school. Elaine went back to school after her youngest child was born,
They're scraping by, she says. "My husband worked while he was in school. He was in construction. His dad has been able to help us out a little bit. Student loans, which with the current economic situation, is on our minds. Student loan money might not be there. He gets a small stipend, but we also worry about money from NIH (National Institutes of Health) drying up -- research money for programs he's in."
"The health care is really scary. We're covered by the U of M, but it's still expensive. We don't have dental. It's always something; you always wonder what's going to be the next thing that happens. When you're living week-to-week, it only takes one catastrophe to put you under."
She's taking Spanish at Century College at the moment, hoping it will be the "golden ticket" to break into the nursing field. She wants to work somewhere -- in Canada, apparently -- with kids.
What does 5 years from now look like? "We're hoping things will settle down for us and we have a regular life. A little house somewhere that we won't have to move out of sometime in the near future," she said.
In a typical day, she says her husband is gone 10 or 12 hours working in the lab, "and then doing classes. I go to school in the evening and then it's midnight and I'm working on online courses and I'm, like, 'We can't do this for four more years.' Then other days you just think about what it'll be like when it's over."
Here's a second helping of slush:
"There are people at this school that are doing way more than what we're doing. Single parents with parents to take care of, working two jobs, and going to school; so I know it can be done," she says.5 Comments)
Posted at 6:22 PM on January 14, 2009
by Bob Collins
Nathan Green, 33, a Nebraska native, says he saw the economy collapsing five years ago when he was working in a parks and recreation department. Bond issues for swimming pools kept getting put off, he said during News Cut's stop at Century College today.
"I wanted a profession that I could be proud of," he said. He wanted to get into orthotics and prosthetics and said the Minnesota campus is the only program in the country for both.
For three years, he and his then-girlfriend-now-wife maintained a long distance relationship. After they got married, she got a job in New Ulm and they had a less-long-distance relationship for three months.
"I needed to make a clean break so I didn't fall into the same old situation, hanging out with the same old friends trying to scrounge out part-time jobs here and there," he said. He's been working in the practitioner program working with patients, and now he's starting to check out possible residency programs.
"It's looking a little bleak right now because the bigger not-for-profit hospitals maybe had their donors in the stock market. They're getting kind of tight and aren't willing to take the students. Taking a resident costs them money. The benefits of them taking new students might become a little daunting when they need to do what they can to keep the lights on in their facilities," he said.
"I'm a little nervous with Medicare and the different outlooks on reimbursement for insurance," he said. It's cost him about $3,000 per semester and he's not altogether sure that won't go up. He expects MnSCU (Minnesota State Colleges and University System) schools to be the first to get hit with budget cuts at a time when the economy is requiring more people to go back to school.
"(People) worked in the airline profession and are coming back to be different technicians and stuff. These are people who had a life, they're starting a brand new career, how long are they going to be in school before they actually get out in the work force and how long do they have to be out in the work force before they get established in the field?"
Most of the money Green stockpiled for school is gone and he's found it difficult to get a job while going to school because employers don't think he'll be around long-term and they won't give him a long-term job while he's in school.
Green's original degree was in education and therapeutic recreation, working with adaptive aquatics, "saw a lot of people post-op or amputation, special needs children."
"I have a very positive outlook; I know everything will work out and things happen for a reason," he said. "My wife stuck with me so I know there's something there. I don't know if anybody knows what the right answers are right now. You may worry yourself into a hole. Yeah, a job is a big part of that but you've got friends and family, too."
He and his wife are expecting their first child in June, right around the time he'll be starting a residency program. Somewhere.
"I'm not going to live in the kind of house my parents do, with the cars and things like that. I'm not entitled to that. That's something I'm going to have to work for it. I'm hoping I'm prepared for that."
You don't often hear about motivational speakers getting laid off, a fact Kary W. Bowser might keep in mind in the difficult economy. He's working on general courses at Century College with an eye on a career in advocacy and leadership.
Some of Bowser's 31-year-old track records still stand at Roosevelt High School. Between then and today he flew missions with the Air Force to Grenada, was assigned to President Ronald Reagan's support team on a visit to China in the '80s, and had a 15-year career in the Postal Service in North Carolina.
He had a track scholarship waiting for him in Mankato but took his route because he wasn't ready for college, he said. Timing is everything. When he returned to Minnesota in 2005, he wanted to enroll in the two-year pharmacy program at Century, which Century was phasing out in a year. Just as well, his mother wanted him in pharmacy. He wanted to go into radiology.
But now he says he's into helping other students. "After they graduate from high school, there's a crossroads: They can turn down a bad road or they can look at other avenues and turn it up a notch. I didn't have that in the inner city but I had the drive and determination to go another way."
"I like helping people; it's just blessings all the way around," he said, adding that he's turned some kids' lives around. "I see myself working in higher education field, dealing with children, pushing a lot of things."1 Comments)
Posted at 7:48 PM on January 14, 2009
by Bob Collins
Mary Bowlin figured she wanted to be a child protection worker right around the time she "had a bad experience with a child protection worker," she said during my visit to Century College on Thursday. "I was living with my mom and then my mom died and my sisters kicked me out. They told child protection I was being irresponsible because I was. I was doing crack. My life got more and more depressing and then my kids got taken away by child protection and it was a nightmare," she said, adding it took five years to get one back.
She stopped drinking, stopped doing crack and she realized there was money available to go to college when a friend of hers told her he was buying cars with financial aid money. "I was just looking for a job and I was doing banquet serving forever. With the economy and stuff, it just goes down, down, down. But you only get $10 an hour , you only get 4 hours and you have to drive out to Plymouth. It's not worth it."
The idea of going into human services popped up at her daughter's 9th grade career fair. She says she'd be good at it because she knows what it's like from the other side. "One thing I would do is having empathy for the people. If they're drinking, I'd tell them to go to AA every day. Don't cut them down. Don't degrade them," she said.
The poor economy and the foreclosure crisis could help her, she figures. The house she's living in is in foreclosure, so she's trying to buy a house. She interested in a duplex that available for $35,000 and she thinks a tenant could help pay the mortgage and her way through college.
When she's not at school, she often talks to women in recovery groups.
A bad economy takes away, and a bad economy gives back. Lucy Elmbald of Osceola, Wisconsin is going to be a nurse, a profession which is in short supply, and for which there's a waiting list. She's been meeting the academic requirements to get into Century College's nursing program.
Up until 2007, nursing wasn't in her future. That's when Anderson Windows permanently laid her and about 500 others off. "It was, 'OK, here's a struggle, here's a bump in the road. You have to just come up with some ideas and figure where to go after that," she said.
"At 32 years of age, thinking that Anderson was the promised land, it was almost a blessing because now I can get my degree and move on with life. Otherwise I'd be a manufacturer until I was 60 or 65 and I wasn't looking forward to that. When I was let go from Anderson, my husband looked at me and said, 'it's either law or it's medical, which one do you want?'"
Up until recently, nursing seemed a recession-proof career. But "right now, people go to hospitals and clinics, they're going because of an emergency," she said. They're putting off other procedures to save cash and that's requiring fewer nurses.
Elmbald doesn't see the overall economy picking up for 5 or 10 years. "It's slim pickings out there and that's why people are going back to school," she said. "Every day is a struggle. Until I get my degree, I don't know where things are going to go but I am bound and determined, even if I'm living in a cardboard box, to get this done."1 Comments)
Zach Rossow of Osceola needs two more biology classes at Century College before he can transfer to either Texas A&M or the University of Minnesota on his way to becoming a doctor of dental surgery. That's another six years of work before he starts his own practice.
That's not just a lot of time. It's a lot of dollars. How does he pursue his dental dreams? He sells knives.
That took our conversation about the economy in an entirely different direction and I asked him to tell me about his favorite sales calls. "In our business we remember the lady or gentleman who had Cutco 55 years ago and they're, like, 'Oh my gosh I haven't seen Cutco in 50 years.' And then they tell you a million stories about their one paring knife."
Nothing perks up a day like a good paring knife story.
He made $35,000 in the last year selling knives 5 to 10 hours a week to finance his education, but he's quick to point out that a friend of his who's graduating from Mankato State University made $180,000.
He figures it's a recession-proof business in the bad economy "until grocery stores stop selling food that's bigger than your mouth."
"You've practiced that line, haven't you?" I asked.
"I've used it before," he admitted.
If you can make that much money selling knives, why become a dentist? "To help people," he said.
It's not a long-standing dream. He was pursuing a career in economics until September when the economy collapsed. He realized the market is going to be flooded with people with financial experience, "and I like school, and human anatomy was my favorite class so it's always been in the back of my mind. So I just chose to change now while I'm still young. I'll still be in my 30s, so what?"
When you're talking to the reigning "Miss You Can Do It," about the economy, you can pretty much scratch the whole "are you pessimistic or optimistic?" question.
Last summer, Alexandra Schmitt of New Brighton won the competition for people who've proven people wrong by proving people wrong. She has mild Cerebral Palsy. She and her twin sister were born three months premature. "We had a 50-50 chance of survival. I weighed in at 1 pound 11 ounces and they thought we weren't going to make it through the night," she told me.
Alexandra is now attending Century College, working on her general courses. She wants to pursue a career working with kids. "Whether it's teaching or working on advocacy for people with disabilities, especially in college. Once you get past high school, the IEP (individual education plan) is no longer valid, but I think it should be."
"I like to try new things and since I won the pageant, I'm not afraid to try something new. A couple of years ago I would never have gone on this radio station to talk to you, I would never have done the TV interviews that I have done. I would never have been able to do speeches. So I think it's boosted my confidence that I can do things," she said.
This weekend, she's going to Washington to attend the Disabilities Power & Pride Inaugural Ball at the National Press Club. She may meet the incoming president.1 Comments)
On Wednesday he started the first day of classes in art history, music, and Spanish at Century College. He's a seminarian at the University of St. Thomas, sent here by the Lansing diocese.
He felt like he was called to the priesthood since about 4th grade in public school. "I was about to get expelled; I was the class clown and I was raising hell," he said. Thus began his education in parochial school. "I grew in my faith, buckled down. In high school is where I really felt the call."
He knows what you might be thinking.
"If I'm walking down the street and someone asks me what I want to be and I answer, 'a priest,' what is the number-one thing they say? A child molester or someone that's going to manipulate people. Fifty years ago it wasn't like that. Morality and the family and celibacy, people mock it. Living in a marital relationship faithfully, those things are less and less important to our society," he said.
He acknowledges, though, that perhaps the recession-proof nature of the priesthood has some cracks. Many churches are empty, or struggling to survive. "The economic dimension of the church, you see at once the church controlled art and politics and a lot of the wealth and it's because people entrusted what the church stood for, and still stands for but has been manipulated in the eyes of the public."
But he says the priesthood is not a career, "it's something you are."1 Comments)
Can the Appalachian Trail be a metaphor for life? Let's ask Sarah Anderson of St. Anthony Village, who told me on Wednesday that she hated high school in Roseville and she didn't want to go to college. "Then all of my friends moved out of state because I hung with really smart people and they were going to private colleges."
So Anderson went to Georgia with a friend, to hike the Appalachian Trail. That's the 2,175 mile Appalachian Trail. "Two nights into the trail... I called my mom and I was bawling, and I was, like, 'I want to come home. Come and pick me up! I don't want to be here.' And my mom said, 'We're not coming for you. You still have 2,170 miles to go. Get moving.'"
She made it to Maine. Her days of not following through on anything she started were over.
When she got home, she admits, she had nothing else to do, her parents were willing to pay for school, so she went to Century College, where she's now working on her general courses before transferring to the University of Minnesota veterinary school. "It's a lot of school, and I hated school, but the whole AT experience really put things in perspective for me. I'd rather work hard now for something I'll enjoy 20 years down the road, than be lazy now and have something 'meh, whatever' 20 years down the road," she said.
"I'm a completely different person. School is nothing (difficulty wise). For the first time in my life I actually care about tests and I'm getting good grades. Now I actually want to get A's and get a good GPA. It's stressful to do so, but I'm like 'meh, whatever.'"
"You get out of it what you put in and it's as hard as you make it. If you put in a lot of work, sure it'll be hard, but you're going to get the A grade back and you'll be a smarter person for it in the end. It's just going to take a lot of time," said Anderson, who describes herself as "a pretty chipper pessimist."
She's less chipper about the economy. "The government is lazy. They don't care about the people out here in the middle class. They're not progressive, they just recycle old ideas. We need something new. We need something fresh, and I don't see that happening."3 Comments)
He's been at Century College since last summer, taking some general classes, including forensics and biology. He plans to get a degree there, then attend Metro State University to learn more about the psychology of juveniles.
He might be able to teach the class. "Where I grew up there are a lot of negative influences and a lot of bad things and I've seen how it looked on the other side of law and it wasn't good. So I started to help people out and I figured out I'm a leader and people started to listen to me. (I was) saving them from a lot of things," he said.
"Most kids were African American and they wanted to do what everyone else was doing in St. Paul, which is fighting and drugs and all that crap," he said. So he organized football games instead.
He says he talks to cops, even when he gets pulled over for a broken taillight, and asks what they like about being a cop, "and they say it's the best job ever. I always get their card and then I call them."
Economic worries? "Right now there's a lot of people trying to be a cop," he says, suggesting that may be because of the economy.
He's not thrilled by the idea of wearing a gun, and he realizes the nightmare scenario of living his dream. He might face his gang-member cousin. "I told him, 'if I catch you at the wrong time, I'm going to have to do what I'm supposed to do, but I said, 'if you need help, if you need help getting out of it, or you need some kind of protection, I'm there for you; I'm not going to just ditch you.'"1 Comments)