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Bernardo Squires: Behind the Scenes

Posted on: December 15th, 2015 by insidemctc No Comments

The way Bernardo Squires tells his story, he was born twice—both times on March 12 around 11 p.m.

Bernardo, MCTCHis Journey

In 1952, Bernardo was born in Caimanera, Cuba on March 12 to Jamaican and Trinidadian parents. Raised by his grandmother and taught by Jamaican teachers, Bernardo was a global citizen even before he left his home country.

His village sat nine miles from Guantanamo Bay. His and many of his friends’ fathers worked on the base.

“In 1962 when we were in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis, everyone’s father went to work at Gitmo and sent money back to their families,” he said. His father took the job because he spoke English and wanted to help support his family. After several grueling years, his father left Cuba seeking refuge in the U.S. Bernardo didn’t know if he’d ever see his father again.

“At the time, the law said if you were 15 or older and male you couldn’t leave the country unless you performed military service,” said Bernardo. It had been six years since he’d seen his father, and he had to find his missing family member.

But first, he had to get out of Cuba.

“Back then, the only way you could get out of Cuba was to end up in Guantanamo,” he said.

And the only way to get to Guantanamo was to swim.

So Bernardo and several friends—nicknamed “guisanos,” or worms—waited until the tide was out and began the very, very long swim across Guantanamo Bay.

“Sometimes boats would come by looking for people, and we had to hold our breath and duck under the water,” Bernardo said. “One of my friends almost didn’t make it. By the time we came ashore in Guantanamo, he was like a ghost. It took him a week before he was normal again.”

Bernardo, MCTCBut he and his friends made it. Once at the military base they sought refuge, and were taken by plane to Miami, coached through immigration and housed with other teenagers in a foster family. “One by one my friends all got in touch with their families in the U.S.,” he said, “but I didn’t have a way to reach my father.” In a time before in-home internet connections and cell phones, Bernardo had to use extensive family and friend connections, borrowed phones and almost a month of time before he had a phone number he hoped belonged to his father.

Around 11 p.m. on Bernardo’s 16th birthday, Bernardo’s father picked up his phone in Brooklyn, and was convinced his lost son had come back to life.

Moving Forward

Bernardo finished high school in New York, attended trade school in Indiana and made a living in several states before taking over the role of caretaker at a little church in south Minneapolis. Saint Mary’s Greek Orthodox Church on the west shore of Lake Calhoun would be Bernardo’s home and livelihood for the next 17 years.

He had a home, a job and a new land-locked life in Minnesota. But—never one to slow down—Bernardo kept moving forward. He began dabbling in art.

“I wrote my first poem at age 27,” he said. “I’ve been writing poems ever since then. I write about whatever comes to me—the writing itself isn’t who I am. I’m just the receiver.” He later picked up a job modeling for an art school in Uptown.

“There was a girl in one of the classes who kept stopping by to talk to me,” he said. “I honestly didn’t know why she kept coming by to visit. It never even occurred to me that she was interested in me.”

He laughed. “Really, I was so dumb.”

Bernardo now has five children in or nearing adulthood. The girl from art school who kept stopping by to chat—now his wife—is still a practicing artist.

Many years later, Bernardo was trying to save money for his kids to go to college. When his job at the church in south Minneapolis was cut, he knew in his heart where he wanted to be.

Bernardo, MCTC“I aimed high and aimed at MCTC. I knew that working there was going to help my family so much.”

As he makes his rounds of the campus during afternoons and evenings, Bernardo’s beaming smile goes with him to each classroom he visits. Working second shift as a general maintenance worker gives him time to exercise and meditate each morning—something he uses to minimize the stress caused by a heart condition.

“I’ve been here now since 2008, he said. “In fact…yesterday was my anniversary.”

He didn’t have to wait long to see the benefit MCTC had on his family: Two of his children have attended or graduated from MCTC, and a third begins classes in January.

“I do my very best because I’ve always been like that,” said Bernardo, who still practices his own form of art. “What inspires poets is the truth. Sometimes I come home and I feel frustrated, so I just write. It helps a lot. That’s why when you see me, I always have a smile on my face.”

“I love it here. I really want to be here until I retire.”

The manner
is the way – you color with emotion
the spectrum of the day – beneath the sun
and sky
your thought was just a seed
lying dormant in the garden – when winter passes
it will awake
to reveal the heart’s intent.

-From Honor Sleeps Within the Heart, by Bernardo Squires

MCTC in the News: Women and Water Reflections

Posted on: December 15th, 2015 by marketingworkstudy No Comments

Rhea Pappas knew she wanted to pursue photography as early as high school, and at MCTC she was able to achieve that goal. She combined her love for water and photography to create stunning images under water. For Pappas, being underwater was serene and comforting and so she uses her photography to emulate that imagery. Pappas’ exhibit is on display in the Minnesota Marine Art Museum.

The original story, available here in the Minnesota Women’s Press, is posted in its entirety below.

 

Women and water reflections
CoverArtist: Fine arts photographer Rhea Pappas takes her camera underwater

by Norma Smith Olson

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Top photo: “Beneath the Surface – Free” Lower left: Cover artist, Rhea Pappas Lower right: “Beneath the Surface – Enter” “There’s something about water that feels like home. You can be alone, a moment for yourself, it’s your time, with freedom to express yourself in a non-judgmental way. When I’m underwater, I don’t feel objectified or judged, it’s just a place for me. I think a lot of other women feel the same way.” – Rhea Pappas

“It’s pretty simple – I love the water,” says Rhea Pappas, this month’s cover artist. “I was always considered a water baby. I’d be in the tub for hours.”

She’s a swimmer, sailor, scuba diver and – where she makes the biggest waves – an underwater photographer.

Beyond her own love of being in the water, Pappas also encourages other women to join her in the swimming pool. She takes pictures with her Aquatica AD700 camera of women underwater with fabrics flowing, often surrounded by bubbles. In one series of photos, Lingua Luna, a local music trio, included their musical instruments under the water.

“I think underwater lends itself to a very womanly presence. The light is gentle; there’s a lot of serenity underwater. It’s a very mystical, mythical, just a comforting place,” Pappas says.

That is, once you get past the whole fear of drowning. Pappas works with her models to ease any anxiety. “Being underwater can be scary for some people,” she says. “I’m not one of those people.”

Beneath the surface

A collection of photographs by Pappas will be on display from October to January at the Minnesota Marine Art Museum in Winona. The project grew out of her college senior thesis of individual women floating on the water with flowers and fabrics. She graduated from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) with a degree in fine arts photography.

Within a year of graduating from MCAD she had equipped herself with an underwater camera and started taking photographs below the surface, capturing the reflections from above the water.

Pappas knew from her senior year at Perpich Arts High School that she would be a photographer. “I wasn’t built for the stage – my heart wasn’t there,” she says. She had started out in the singing program at Perpich, but learned quickly that she had stage fright. She found she preferred to be out of the spotlight and behind the camera.

Pappas was introduced to photography and darkroom processes in her first year of high school. “I found it very difficult, but I loved the challenge. Put me in an honors class, and I’d excel.”
For Pappas, this art form was mathematical and technical, with variable scientific components, like the sun being too bright for exposure. “I’m nerdy,” she says. Taking photos combines the logicaland the artistic sides of her brain. “My favorite things. It’s very rewarding.”

While in high school she took PSEO (Postsecondary Enrollment Options) classes in photography at MCAD and also at Minneapolis Technical and Community College. Her senior photographic portfolio led to her winning a substantial arts scholarship, which she used at MCAD.

Today, along with her passion for fine art photography, Pappas works with a digital camera and shoots weddings, senior portraits and events for businesses, such as Aveda and Caribou Coffee.

“I love capturing emotions and moments,” she says. “I’m going along on someone else’s journey and documenting it. It’s nice to be a part of somebody’s story, centered on someone else.”

FFI: www.rheapappas.com

You can watch Rhea Pappas at work with her underwater camera in a Minnesota Original episode, produced by Twin Cities Public Television: www.mnoriginal.org/episode/mn-original-show-103/rhea-pappas/

IFYOUGO:
What: Surfacing: Rhea Pappas
When: Oct. 23, 2015-Jan. 10, 2016; Tues.-Sun., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Where: Minnesota Marine Art Museum, 800 Riverview Dr., Winona, MN 55987
Cost: Adults $7; students $3; children age 4 and under, free
FFI: 507-474-6626 or www.mmam.org

Jag Arora: International Fare, Local Grad

Posted on: December 8th, 2015 by insidemctc No Comments

Jag Arora, MCTC“We got where we are in a matter of 18 days.”

Jag Arora isn’t joking. The MCTC alum and owner of Tiffin Man, the College’s new internationally influenced cafeteria, had just over two weeks between when he was offered to step in and run the MCTC cafeteria and the day the doors opened for the beginning of the fall semester.

About Jag

When Jag was 16 years old, his uncle sponsored him and his parents to move from India into the basement of his downtown Minneapolis home. He started 11th grade at Roseville High School.

“My dad brought $50 and three suitcases, and we moved straight into my uncle’s basement. It was a very humble start to this journey. My parents knew if they didn’t come here, I wouldn’t have the opportunities I now have—but still, it took two to three years for me to just start communicating with people.”

After high school, Jag wanted to go on to college, but his family didn’t have much money. “When I wanted to buy a bottle of water on campus, my mom told me I could go home and drink water,” he said. To save money on college, Jag decided community college was the way to go. He started his path at MCTC in 2001.

While pursuing his degree in Computer Networking, Jag made ends meet by working at local restaurants. It was a sign of things to come. “I started cooking more at home, and eventually, cooking overtook my interest in computer networking.”

Jag’s path after graduation took him to Metropolitan State University where he transferred and, a few years later, received his bachelor’s degree in Business Management. “I wanted to learn how to be a manager so I could work for myself and start my own business.”

Jag and a few business partners opened a deli on Harmon Place—right in his old backyard—in 2009. Larger grocery stores honed in on the neighborhood, but Jag’s business model and employees persevered. “We innovated our menu to stay relevant and connect with our customers.”

Taking Over

One day Jag’s quality business and friendly personality landed him an incredible offer: The former operator of the MCTC cafeteria just one block away had left the College, leaving an opening for a new food service provider. Could Jag, his business model and his employees step in to serve breakfast, lunch and dinner for a college of 11,000 students? And could he start in two weeks?

He could. And he did.

“Once I accepted the offer, my employees and I had all sorts of ideas about how to make things better,” said Jag. “We’d serve new, internationally themed food as well as the classic burgers and fries. And we’d do it all better.”

From the day he received the offer to take over operation of the MCTC cafeteria, Jag’s intent for his “Tiffin Man Cafeteria” was to use the best ingredients and cook as much from scratch as possible. “If you go into my freezer, about the only thing in there is fries. Part of our excitement comes from the opportunity to create global food. My chefs are skilled, and we have the state-of-the-art equipment to do it.“

Jag kept the old cafeteria’s sandwich station, but started sourcing his produce from high-quality providers like Boar’s Head and the local Cut Fruit Express. “We’re using better meats, breads and produce, and everything is only good for 24 hours. That’s the commitment we’re bringing to campus,” he said.

The Tiffin Man

In British slang, “tiffing” means to take a little drink. In India, a “tiffin” is a mid-day meal or lunch box. For Jag, it was his childhood. “I was brought up taking my tiffin to school.” Now Jag offers a tiffin to the students at MCTC, who can order everything from freshly assembled burgers and hot fries to falafel and burritos in the same day. In addition to his commitment to quality and diverse menu offerings, Jag humbly pays his chefs, cooks and cashiers a generous living wage.

Looking Back

“My family looks back today and recalls that moment when we couldn’t afford to buy a bottle of water,” said Jag.
“When you go through emotional hurdles with family, money and hardship, it makes you a better person. It makes you humble about what you’ve achieved. I know I worked hard on my path to success, and I’ll never take an opportunity for granted.”

MCTC Dedicates its Science Center

Posted on: December 2nd, 2015 by insidemctc 1 Comment

MCTC Ackerberg Science CenterNew names on the MCTC Science Center building belong to longtime friends of the college: Carolyn and Sanders (Sandy) Ackerberg. Nearly a hundred friends, family and community members gathered in the newly dedicated Ackerberg Science Center on November 23 to honor the life, legacy and gift made on behalf of Sandy.

“This is a thankful time all around the country,” said MCTC Vice President of Strategic Partnerships Mike Christenson, “and it’s a particularly thankful week at MCTC.” The dedication took place a few days before Thanksgiving.

The MCTC Foundation received a generous $1 million gift from Carolyn Ackerberg in memory of her late husband Sanders (Sandy) Ackerberg, who served and led the MCTC Foundation and helped lay the groundwork for what MCTC is today. Among the largest gifts in MCTC Foundation history, this donation will be used to fund scholarships and provide resources for students in need. In gratitude, the College named its Science Center for the Ackerbergs.

“Scholarships give college students the gift of time,” said Vice President of Academic Affairs Gail O’Kane. “There is no greater gift to students.”

AckerbergsSandy served on the MCTC Foundation Board of Directors for a decade and was Board President from 1986–1988. It was Sandy’s belief in the potential of all persons, and his commitment to education, that led him to serve MCTC, leading fundraising efforts and spearheading the Foundation’s first capital campaign.

A graduate of North High School, Sandy served the United States during WWII, and came home to enroll at the University of Minnesota. After earning his degree in architecture in 1949, he launched a long and highly respected career as an architect and real estate developer. For more than 35 years, Carolyn and Sandy worked together managing commercial and multi-housing real estate properties.

Sandy passed away in 2009. Since then, Carolyn has kept Sandy’s passion for MCTC students alive.

The dedication was attended by a rounded sample of community members, well-wishers and past and present employees. Attendees included former MCTC President Phil Davis, champion of the tuition relief program Power of YOU and leader of the 2009 capital funding campaign to redesign and upgrade the Science Center; Foundation Board President Harry Davis, Jr.; State Senator Scott Dibble who represents MCTC’s community and has been described as one of the foremost leaders of civil rights in the state; five MCTC students who received Ackerberg Science Scholarships; former Executive Director of the MCTC Foundation Reede Webster who led the Foundation at the time of the Ackerbergs’ donation; and many others.

“I guarantee if you invest in MCTC, you’ll get the best return on your investment,” said Foundation Board President Harry Davis, Jr.

The Science Center is, itself, an engineering wonder. Opened in 2009, the Center was built over and around buildings purchased from businesses adjacent to campus. A dedicated team of architects, designers, engineers and College faculty agreed on an open, airy design for the building’s interior spaces, and a striking glass façade on the exterior front. The building contains energy-efficient mechanical and electrical systems, and was constructed with careful attention to waste production, recycling potential and landfill avoidance.

“Your gift, Carolyn, extends far beyond money,” said Astronomy Instructor Parke Kunkle, noting that the dedication fell on the 100 year anniversary of Albert Einstein’s presentation of his theory of relativity. “We’re excited to see the ripples you’ve created in the fabric of our lives.”
“I’m honored to be here on behalf of my beloved husband Sandy,” said Carolyn Ackerberg. “Although we all prefer that he be here himself, his gift is intended to provide the means for future generations of students and graduates to be successful. If we can eliminate just this one barrier for students, it may mean the difference in their educations and their lives.”

Click here for an album of photos from the dedication.

MCTC Director Named MnSCU Administrator of the Year

Posted on: December 1st, 2015 by insidemctc No Comments

Tom Williamson, MCTCAcknowledging his significant contributions to the development of academic and student affairs programming at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, Tom Williamson, director of academic operations, has been selected to receive a 2014–2015 Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Academic and Student Affairs award for Outstanding Academic and Student Affairs Administrator. He was only one of two administrators across the system to receive this recognition this year.

This prestigious award acknowledges accomplishments based on criteria like leadership, innovation and contributions to teaching, learning and the success of students at a college or university and within the MnSCU system. “The citizens of Minnesota look to our colleges and universities to provide both creativity and excellence as we continually evolve to better meet the needs of students and the state,” wrote Ron Anderson, vice chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs at MnSCU. “[Tom exemplifies] those characteristics, and I am thrilled to see [him] recognized in this visible way. These awards inspire others to follow [his] extraordinary example.”

“Tom is a model of an effective, collegial and game-changing administrator, deserving of recognition as a MnSCU Academic and Student Affairs Administrator of the Year,” wrote MCTC vice president of Academic Affairs Gail O’Kane in support of Tom.