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St. Paul Police Department Swears in Nation’s First Karen Officer—an MCTC TRIO Starting Point Graduate

Posted on: December 23rd, 2014 by insidemctc No Comments

The St. Paul police department has made the news on a few occasions recently.

Earlier this fall, it welcomed Kadra Mohamed, the first woman of Somali descent to the department—a move made possible by the announcement that the police department approved an option for employees to wear a police-issued head scarf.

Last week, the department swore in the nation’s first Karen officer. Ler Htoo is a graduate of the Law Enforcement program run jointly by Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC) and Hennepin Technical College. The Karen ethnic group originates from the country of Myanmar, and there are about 8,500 Karen individuals living in Minnesota. During his time at MCTC, Ler was a student in the College’s TRIO Starting Point program.

(You can also read the story of Deborah Montgomery, MCTC Law Enforcement instructor, who was the first woman hired to the St. Paul police department back in 1975.)

The full story is pasted below, and available from the St. Paul Pioneer Press here.

St. Paul swears in nation’s first Karen police officer

Article by: JAMES WALSH , Star Tribune | Updated: December 19, 2014 – 9:42 AM

Ler Htoo graduated from the St. Paul Police Academy on Thursday night, becoming what is believed to be the first police officer from Myanmar’s Karen ethnic group in the United States.

When you are the first member of your community, your culture, to become something as quintessentially American as a police officer, well, you might be a little cautious about tooting your own horn.

That’s why, as he was about to graduate from the St. Paul Police Academy Thursday night and become what is believed to be the first Karen police officer in the United States, Ler Htoo wasn’t quite ready to mark the accomplishment.

“It’s not over yet,” he said before the ceremony, looking to the next 16 weeks of field training with veteran officers. “I’m not quite there yet.”

Still, he’s come a long way.

Htoo spent the first three years of his life in his native Myanmar and the next 15 in refugee camps in Thailand. In 2009, when Htoo was 18, he and his family moved to St. Paul. In 2011, he graduated from St. Paul’s Como Park High School, where he ran track and cross country. He then graduated from Hennepin County Technical College after studying law enforcement.

His interest in becoming a cop was always strong. He joined the St. Paul Police Explorer Program before becoming an award-winning member of the department’s community liaison program, helping members of St. Paul’s Karen community navigate the laws and customs of a new country.

Earlier this year, Htoo was a finalist for civilian employee of the year for his liaison work — teaching in-service classes, making presentations to business associations and schools and helping organize Karen youth groups and elder meetings.

“This is what I like to do. I want to help people,” Htoo said. “I like when people approach me. I want to be the one they can count on in my community.”

As the St. Paul Police band played “Pomp and Circumstance” from the Johnson High School auditorium balcony Thursday night, new officers marched to the stage, preparing to take their place among the state’s second-largest police department. An auditorium filled with families and friends taking photos, shooting videos and registering memories, looked on with pride.

“Take pride in the work you do, for the department, for each other and for the city of St. Paul,” St. Paul Police Chief Thomas Smith told them. “Know that your actions will be judged not just by what you do, but how you do it.”

Htoo is part of the largest — and most diverse — incoming class of new St. Paul police officers in at least 30 years. Forty-seven officers were sworn in Thursday. Five of the graduates are women, one is Latino, three are African-American, nine are Asian, 15 are military veterans.

The class swells the ranks of the St. Paul Police Department to 615 sworn officers, the most in the city’s history.

‘A huge breakthrough’

Karen leaders praised Smith’s choice in picking Htoo.

Saw Morrison, a program manager with the Karen Organization of Minnesota, said Htoo’s hiring represents a door opening for the Karen in Minnesota — of opportunity and responsibility to give back to the broader community.

Htoo, he said, is “passionate and committed. His goal is very clear, to help the community and represent the whole community.”

Chong Vang, executive director of the Karen Organization of Minnesota, was asked about the impact of Htoo becoming a cop.

“It’s huge,” he said. “We have had a number of conversations about how to get a Karen person on the force, about how to improve cultural competency. This is a huge breakthrough for the community and for Ler, too.”

There are an estimated 8,500 Karen in Minnesota. The ethnic group was persecuted in its native Myanmar.

Not only will Htoo be able to help his fellow officers better understand the growing Karen community, but he will help the community better understand its responsibilities and expectations here in the United States, Vang said.

“He can educate the community about the police force and their role,” he said. “That’s important, for a community that has been persecuted by the [Myanmar] government in the past.”

Vang was asked if being the first Karen officer in Minnesota, and possibly the nation, puts pressure on Htoo.

“There is always a level of pressure,” he said. “But Ler Htoo is smart. He has a good head on his shoulders. I think he will be able to navigate the challenges that will come his way. He is not shy about talking about the laws and regulations and what is OK and not OK.”

Before he feels completely comfortable doing that, Htoo acknowledged, he has a bit more work to do.

“You have to be constantly learning. With this job, you can’t stop learning,” he said, looking forward to the next four months with excitement — and a little nervousness. “With all the laws and the statutes, there is much to know.”

James Walsh • 651-925-5041

 

MCTC, Augsburg & Others to Diversify Teacher Workforce

Posted on: December 23rd, 2014 by marketingworkstudy No Comments

Bush_GrantSTORYMinneapolis Community and Technical College will collaborate with Augsburg College, Minneapolis Public Schools and Saint Paul Public Schools to utilize funds from a recent Bush Foundation grant to build educational infrastructure that intentionally recruits teacher candidates of color, improves their clinical experiences while training, and supports their smooth transition into a teaching career.

“Currently, about 97 percent of teachers in Minnesota are white,” said Kristy Snyder, dean of Academic Foundations. “MCTC has a strong record of engaging future teachers of color in our culturally competent teacher education program to prepare them for their future classrooms. Around 60 percent of students in MCTC’s educational programs are students of color. This grant encourages creative ways to recruit and retain teacher candidates of color, and because of that, Augsburg reached out to us to collaborate with them.”

This effort to recruit and support teacher candidates of color comes amidst the climate of teacher shortages in areas like special education and ESOL, and also in light of a large portion of the state teacher population approaching retirement age. The grant will strengthen the existing connection between MCTC’s two-year program and transfer opportunities to Augsburg while providing supplementary support to candidates to ensure their success as new teachers.

“The program at MCTC is very focused on cultural competency,” said Snyder. “For this reason, we currently attract many teacher candidates of color. By strengthening our articulation agreement with Augsburg, we strengthen the incentive for candidates to complete MCTC’s program, transfer and be placed.”

“Our greater goal is to utilize our community resources to close the state’s achievement gap,” said Snyder. “This is the perfect opportunity to make use of the talent and experience in our own communities.”

MCTC will host a Future Teacher Conference on March 7 for individuals interested in learning more about MCTC’s educational programs. Registration will be available soon on the Minneapolis Public Schools website.

MCTC Graphic Design Students Receive MCAD Scholarships

Posted on: December 22nd, 2014 by marketingworkstudy No Comments

MCADscholarshipSTORYMCTC Graphic Design students Raul Villanueva and Maria Sanchez have received scholarships worth over $100,000 combined from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD).

The MCAD Visual Merit Scholarship recognizes student achievement and success. The renewable scholarship is given yearly to 50 enrolled students pursuing their BFA, BS or MFA. Villanueva is honored to have received the award.

“I don’t think I could have accomplished it without all the support from my family and instructors in the Graphic Design department,” he said.

Both Villanueva and Sanchez were encouraged to apply for the scholarship by Graphic Design instructor Bill Hendricks upon being accepted to MCAD, one of the country’s most prestigious art institutions.

“We are so proud these individuals as we are of all of our graduates, whether working, freelancing, or continuing their education at a four-year institution,” he said.

The two students will be finishing up their respective associate’s degrees at MCTC this spring and will be starting at MCAD in fall 2015.

“I feel ready and confident thanks to everything that our instructors in the Graphic Design department have taught us,” Sanchez said. “We have learned to be leaders in our field and to always strive for the best.”

Deborah Montgomery: Civil Rights Activist and MCTC Faculty

Posted on: December 18th, 2014 by insidemctc No Comments
Deborah, MCTC faculty

Deborah with a copy of the May 9, 1976 Pioneer Press.

When Deborah received a call from the Saint Paul mayor in 1974, she was working as a city planner. The last thing she expected to do with her career was become a police officer.

Forty years later, she’s a retired officer with two masters’ degrees, four adult children, countless awards for her groundbreaking work, and she holds the distinct honor of having been the first female police officer on the Saint Paul police force. Now, she’s teaching the next generation of law enforcement officers at MCTC.

Even before joining the police force, Deborah’s career was impressive. She grew up during an era of civil rights activism and became the youngest person ever elected to the National Board of Directors of the NAACP at age 17—a position she held for six years. She participated in the 1963 March on Washington, D.C. with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and joined King again two years later in a 50-mile march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. to advocate for voters’ rights.

In 1974 she was working as a city planner when the mayor of Saint Paul asked her to take part in the first citywide effort to hire African American officers for the police force. Saint Paul had 600 police officers, and only four were African American. She agreed, though intended to return to her job as a city planner after trying out the training academy. “I had a master’s degree and a steady job,” said Deborah. “This was a favor for a friend.”

In 1975, the police department used the Westpoint Physical Agility Test as the bar for its upcoming officers. “To this day, I’m the only woman who competed against men—with men’s standards—and passed.” There were no uniforms for women and no separate locker rooms. Because most of the men in the training academy were six feet tall, Deborah worked with trainers to learn modified takedown techniques. Some colleagues accused her of taking a job away from a white man, saying she only received the job because she’s a black woman. “This was an era of very active civil rights activism,” said Deborah. “At the end of the academy, I realized that if I didn’t take a job, I would be seen as giving up, and future women who wanted to become officers may not have this opportunity.” Shortly thereafter, Deborah became the first female officer on patrol in the Saint Paul Police Department.

Deborah held her unexpected career as a police officer for 28 years. During that time she raised four children and went back to school at St. Thomas University. She became one of the first two people at the university to graduate with a master’s degree in police administration and police community education. “At that point, I was encouraged to consider teaching.”

Deborah arrived at MCTC in 2007 after teaching for 10 years at Century College. Now, due to legislative changes and a retiring workforce, “the next decade is crucial for the training of new law enforcement officers,” she said. Her course addresses ethics, theory and service learning, and requires 30 hours of volunteering with a culture “different from the one you grew up in.”

“As police officers, we become social workers, psychologists and human resources,” she said. “If you’ve got familiarity with a second language, you’re going to excel at your ability to get a job. The ability to communicate is crucial. Cultural competence is crucial.”

Deborah teaches her students to build relations, deal with conflict and navigate remediation as well as how to write a resume and practice interviewing skills. “I’ve networked with MCTC’s resources to make sure students are successful,” she said. “Ninety-eight percent of what police do is public relations. People call when they don’t understand the system, and they don’t know who else to call.”

Deborah’s work continues both inside and outside the classroom. For decades she has inspired local youth to pursue law enforcement, including three of her children, and more recently, the first Somali woman on the Saint Paul police force who has done her own groundbreaking a generation after Deborah.

Deborah’s extensive accomplishments have not gone unnoticed.

Last year she was awarded the Heritage Award by the International Association of Women Police, and traveled to South Africa to accept the award. Most recently, she received a distinct honor from the Saint Paul City Council: anyone who drives down Marshall Ave. from Lexington to Western—in Saint Paul’s historic Rondo Neighborhood—will travel a route now known as Deborah Gilbreath Montgomery Ave.

Our Voices: Modou Jaw, World Citizen

Posted on: December 9th, 2014 by marketingworkstudy No Comments

ModouBlogBreaking Out of his Shell to Discuss Global Issues

MCTC Mathematics student Modou Jaw has made the most of his four years in the United States.

The Gambian-born student delivered a speech this fall at the Association of American Colleges and Universities Global Learning Conference in Minneapolis. In his speech, he explored the international student experience, and the struggles he and his peers face every day.

“Most people think international students come from wealthy families,” he said. “That’s not always true.”

Modou had been determined to attend college in the U.S. ever since he studied American politics during the 2008 presidential election.

He was drawn to Minnesota in particular, and relocated here in 2009. International students, however, are not eligible for federal financial aid. His first year in the U.S., Modou worked full-time and lived with a sponsor family while saving for his education. The cost of international student tuition was daunting, and kept Modou from pursuing a four-year school.

In 2012, a friend invited Modou to visit MCTC. He was instantly drawn to the College’s culture and atmosphere, and knew he wanted to make it his new home.

In his first semester at MCTC, Modou often sat at the back of his classes and kept to himself. American college culture felt radically different, and was afraid of others judging him.

“When you come to a new country, at first you don’t really feel like you’re a part of it,” he said.

With time, Modou mastered his classes—and his classmates noticed. He was approached for tutoring, and the personal interactions brought him out of his shell at last.

The growth went both ways. While interacting with his classmates in one-on-one settings, Modou was able to address misconceptions and stereotypes his classmates had about African culture.

“People think we live in huts,” he said. “The room I lived in back home was actually bigger than the one I live in now.”

As he grew more comfortable interacting in the classroom, his reputation as a knowledgeable classmate with global experience spread. One of his instructors invited him to share his outlook and experiences at the annual Association of American Colleges and Universities Conference on behalf of MCTC.

“He was the only speaker at the conference representing a community college,” said MCTC Global Studies Instructor Ranae Hanson. “He was brave, and talked about subjects that nobody else would.”

Modou’s bravery and willingness to discuss global issues also won him the Walter M. Welter World Citizen Scholarship Award, a scholarship recognizing students who exhibit qualities of a global citizen.

“This scholarship is more meaningful than others because it recognizes those who see problems in the world and want to see them solved,” Modou said.

Modou has covered much ground in his relatively short time at MCTC—in addition to mastering his classes, he’s grown more comfortable with himself. “I feel more comfortable talking about real global issues, and feel like I have the courage to have more discussions in class,” said Modou. After this school year, he hopes to transfer to the University of Minnesota or University of St. Thomas to study engineering.

“I’ve always challenged myself and put myself in difficult situations,” he said. “I believe that is the best way to learn.”