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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.”

A Leader in Her Field, Tiffni Went Back for Her Bachelor’s Degree

Posted on: December 1st, 2014 by insidemctc No Comments

Tiffni Deeb, MCTC deputy CIOA Rocky Start

When Tiffni Deeb started college at age 18, her heart wasn’t in it. After two weeks, she dropped out of St. Cloud State University, and at age 19 her first child was born.

But Tiffni has never lacked for energy. Her first job was as a clerk typist. “I didn’t know how to type,” Tiffni explained, laughing. She started by pecking at the keyboard, and eventually her typing improved. Tiffni asked her supervisor if she could use the computer in the corner. “My supervisor responded by saying ‘Sure, but to be honest, we don’t know what that thing does.’”

Moving Up

Her enthusiasm fueled her career. “I was a pest. I offered to do all sorts of little projects, and when I finished my coworkers had to scramble to give me a new task,” she said. Eventually she was given the opportunity to attend a five-day networking training, and from there her career bloomed.

As computers evolved and the internet made its entry into homes, Tiffni moved into web development, working first at Century College as a web developer and webmaster and later at the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system office in Downtown St. Paul. There, she did project and portfolio management with vice chancellors and chief information officers (CIOs) at the 31 MnSCU colleges and universities.

“There are so many people along the way who have inspired and supported me,” said Tiffni. “I am where I am due to that amazing support.”

In 2012 Tiffni came to Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC) as the director of technical services. One year later the CIO fell ill, and—true to her style—she stepped forward to tackle a new project.

“Of the 31 colleges and universities in MnSCU, I was one of only a handful of female CIOs,” said Tiffni. “It can be hard to be the only woman in a room full of men. Everyone is supportive in their own ways, but when you feel like the minority in the room, you feel pressure to perform.”

Removing the Last Barrier

Tiffni had been feeling that pressure for some time. “More than 10 years ago I wondered whether becoming a CIO was a step I would ever be able to take,” she said. “I doubted myself. I was a woman without a degree—was I capable of it? Was I smart enough?”

Doubt couldn’t keep her from pursuing success. “I decided I didn’t want a door standing in my way,” she said. “If lacking a degree was my barrier, I was going to remove that barrier. I didn’t want to hear a single excuse from hiring managers.”

Tiffni took her first online class in 2001. She received her associate degree from Minnesota West Community and Technical College and later transferred to Metro State. “My education has helped me tremendously, especially with leadership skills,” she said. Her capstone class was full of non-traditional students like herself. “I learned that you can have a full career and work toward a degree at the same time. The people in my classes helped me see what I have and what I don’t have, and gave me context.”

Excelling

During her year as MCTC’s acting CIO, Tiffni had her work cut out for her. She oversaw the implementation of several new technology platforms which required converting credentials for every student and employee at the College—approximately 15,000 people. “When I think too much about hurdles, it can get overwhelming,” she said. “But I’ve learned that in order to make effective decisions, you have to be patient, and you have to listen. We were patient, we researched before we acted and our projects were successful.”

Last year—while in her role as the College’s acting CIO—Tiffni finished her bachelor’s degree at Metro State. “At first I didn’t want to attend the graduation ceremony and walk across the stage, but my family had been supporting me throughout it all and convinced me to go,” she said.

“I became both an acting CIO and a grandmother before I received my bachelor’s degree,” she said.
Tiffni’s interim role as acting CIO has since ended, and she has assumed the position of deputy CIO at MCTC. Her enthusiasm and dedication have built the foundation of her life journeys, and her achievements stand as shining examples of motivation and leadership. “I couldn’t have done what I’ve done without the support of so many amazing people,” she said. “When the barriers seem overwhelming, I remind myself that 80 percent is better than zero percent. The key for us all is to be patient, and tell ourselves what we will do—rather than what we won’t do.”

Nursing Alumni Receives Lifetime Achievement Award

Posted on: December 1st, 2014 by marketingworkstudy No Comments
Nursing

Students in MCTC’s Nursing program.

Mpls.St.Paul Magazine awarded MCTC nursing alumni Be Ho a Lifetime Achievement Award for her more than 30 years of work in the field. Be earned her associate degree in Nursing at MCTC in the 1980s shortly after her time as a nurse in the Vietnam War, and is currently working with Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

Read her full story on the Children’s Hospital blog.

 

Nurse with inspirational story receives lifetime achievement award

By Erin Keifenheim

Be Ho, staff RN, surgery, knew she wanted to be a nurse when she was 4½ years old, yet she never imagined that following her dream would lead her on a journey to flee her home country and start a new life halfway around the world. Now celebrating her 34th year at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, Be recently was named the 2014 Lifetime Achievement winner in the annual Mpls.St.Paul Magazine Outstanding Nurses awards for her amazing nursing skills and perseverance to follow her dream.

Be’s inspirational story starts in Vietnam, where she was born. When her father had abdominal surgery in the French-run hospital there, Be was mesmerized by the French nurses with their blue eyes, long eyelashes and surgical gowns, and the kindness they showed her family. She knew from that moment that she would become a nurse someday. At the age of 9, she pleaded with her parents to send her to nursing school. She cried so much that they finally arranged a meeting for her with the director of a local hospital. He convinced her to hold off on becoming a nurse until she was old enough. Finally, when Be was 17, she couldn’t wait any longer.

“At that time, nursing was looked down on as a career,” Be said. “Girls were supposed to stay at home. Nurses were viewed as the ones who did the dirty work – changing diapers and cleaning wounds. I didn’t dare tell my family I was applying for nursing school.”

Instead, Be lied to her parents, telling them she was going to visit her cousin in the capital, but she actually took the entrance exam for nursing school. Three months later, she didn’t have the heart to sneak away again to find out the results. However, her neighbor had gone to see the results of his fiancée’s exam and saw Be’s name on the list. He came over to congratulate her, thus breaking the news to her parents. Her mother cried and was resistant, but her father persuaded her to allow Be to go to nursing school – he knew she would be a wonderful nurse; he was right. Be went on to graduate second in her class. And because she always knew she wanted to work with children, she took a job at a children’s hospital in Saigon. She eventually went on to become the hospital’s director of nursing.

In 1968, Be received a scholarship to travel to England for intensive nursing care training. In 1972, she visited Minneapolis with a group of young patients who needed open-heart surgeries. The Children’s Heart Fund, now Children’s HeartLink, sponsored her to escort the patients and care for them while they were here. During that trip, she formed relationships with the staff at Children’s – Minneapolis who thought very highly of her and recognized her potential.

Back in Vietnam, the war was continuing. Because Be had traveled outside the country multiple times, the communist leaders suspected her of being a spy.

“Every week I had to write an essay to the communist government saying that I was the country’s enemy,” Be said. “One day I was brave enough to ask why I was being forced to write these letters. They told me ‘because you are such a good nurse.’ It was very hard for me to say I was an enemy when all I wanted to do was provide nurturing and loving nursing care – just like the French nurses I saw as a child.”

Eventually, Be became worried about her future in Vietnam. Her colleagues at Children’s Heart Fund attempted to evacuate her in 1975, but she couldn’t bear to leave without saying goodbye to her family. Though she feared for her life, she said a tearful goodbye to her friends and remained in Vietnam. A few years later, she knew it was time to escape. She contacted her U.S. colleagues for assistance, under the guise that she needed to have open-heart surgery in Japan.

“I had to lie again to escape Vietnam. If I was caught, I would be sent to a concentration camp,” Be said. “I told the hospital I was working for that my grandmother was dying, when she had actually died before I was born.”

Arrangements were made for Be to travel by boat to a refugee camp in Thailand.

“I had to leave without saying goodbye to my family. I wanted to protect them in case the communist government came looking for me. I wrote a letter to my dad and left. It was very scary,” she said. “I didn’t know anyone. It was getting dark. We had to hide under coconut leaves on the boat to disguise ourselves from the communist police who were chasing us. When we finally made it to international waters, I was so happy I cried.”

Be spent five months in the refugee camp, where she worked as a clinic nurse and as a translator for the U.S. delegation. It was there that she also met her now husband, who found her in the crowd of new arrivals and arranged for her to have a place to sleep. While the camp provided safety, she knew there was more out there for her, and soon she was sponsored to work in the U.S. In August of 1980, Be arrived in Minnesota.

“I knew I wanted to work at Children’s Hospital,” Be said. “It was a place of comfort for me. I talked with the director of nursing, but because my nursing papers and transcripts were thrown overboard by pirates during my escape, I had no official paperwork. They hired me as a nursing assistant in the PICU, and I was so grateful.”

With the help of a Children’s scholarship, Be went back to school full time and got her associate’s degree in nursing from Minneapolis Community and Technical College. She was then hired as a registered nurse at Children’s and worked on 4 East (now the sixth floor), before eventually transferring to surgery.

Be is now the urology team leader in the surgery department and works with surgeons and staff to make sure they have the instruments and supplies needed for a variety of surgeries. She works to onboard new surgery nurses in urology and across other services, too.

“With every patient she works with, Be is calm, comforting and compassionate,” said Pat Buzzell, patient care manager for the surgery department. “She takes care of the whole family, reassures them and educates them so surgery isn’t a scary experience. She comes in on her days off to conduct patient family tours, and she often stays late to check in on patients. She does whatever it takes to make families comfortable, using her cheerful personality to calm their fears and put them at ease.”

Be still has a deep love for Vietnam and returns there on medical missions to provide care for children at the hospital where she used to work. She has recruited Children’s surgeons and staff to join her on these trips, where they provide education to medical teams and perform surgeries.

“Be gives everything to her patients, whether they are here or in Vietnam,” Pat said. “She works tirelessly to advocate for them, and she doesn’t give up. Because of the journey she has had and how hard she has worked to get here, Be refuses to settle for anything less than perfection. She believes in hard work and practice and has earned the respect of the surgeons, anesthesiologists and all staff on our unit. Be says it’s an honor to work with kids – I say it’s an honor to work with Be.”

Now almost 70 and pondering when to retire, Be gets emotional when she thinks about potentially leaving Children’s – her second home.

“I am so grateful to Children’s Hospital for all they have done for me,” she said. “Without them, I wouldn’t be here now. This country took me in, but this hospital gave me a second chance for my life. I love Children’s Hospital from the bottom of my heart.”

St. Paul Rondo Neighborhood Honors MCTC Law Enforcement Faculty Debbie Montgomery

Posted on: November 19th, 2014 by insidemctc No Comments
Debbie Montgomery

Debbie Montgomery holds a copy of a 1976 Pioneer Press story about her involvement on the St. Paul Police Force.

MCTC Law Enforcement Faculty Debbie Montgomery received a unique honor this week: The City of St. Paul named a stretch of Marshall Avenue, in the city’s historic Rondo neighborhood, after her. Read the story from the Pioneer Press here.

St. Paul honors Debbie Montgomery with street segment

The segment of Marshall Avenue between Lexington Parkway and Western Avenue soon will bear the name of a former St. Paul City Council member who grew up during the civil rights era and became the first female officer in the St. Paul Police Department.

On Wednesday, the council voted to approve a resolution co-naming the avenue after Debbie Gilbreath Montgomery. Council member Dai Thao, who sponsored the resolution, called her a “true pioneer of courage and leadership for the city of St. Paul.”

Montgomery, who attended the vote, expressed gratitude for the new street name in her honor and encouraged city leaders to embrace the growing diversity within St. Paul as important decisions are made.

“Our city is changing,” Montgomery told the council. “We have to be open. … We have to make sure that everyone is at the table — at the table when the initial discussions happen, not afterward.”

According to Dai Thao’s resolution, Montgomery was born in St. Paul’s historically black Rondo neighborhood in 1946, 12 years before the construction of Interstate 94 razed her home and cleaved the neighborhood in two.

In the late 1950s, she served as president of the St. Paul NAACP youth group, and at age 17 became the youngest person ever elected to the NAACP’s national board of directors.

The position allowed her an opportunity to rub elbows with Vice President Hubert Humphrey and march on Washington, D.C., in 1963 with civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

Two years later, she participated in a historic civil rights march from Selma, Ala., to Montgomery, Ala.

Montgomery, who graduated from St. Paul’s Central High School, went on to earn two master’s degrees in urban planning and police administration. She became the first female police officer in the St. Paul Police Department in 1975, rising up the ranks from sergeant to senior commander.

Council member Dan Bostrom, a former St. Paul police sergeant, recalled serving alongside Montgomery on the force. He told the council not to be fooled by her calm demeanor, and remembered a time when she knocked a belligerent suspect unconscious.

“When you run into a bunch of drunks during St. Patrick’s Day, yeah, we’re talking about Jekyll and Hyde here,” said Bostrom, to widespread laughter.

Montgomery served as assistant commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety from 1991 to 1998 and was elected to the Ward 1 seat on the city council in 2004. She was unseated by Melvin Carter in the November 2007 election.

In 2008, she became an adjunct professor at Minneapolis Community and Technical College.

Montgomery was one of seven candidates who ran for the open Ward 1 seat on the council in November 2013. She finished in fourth place, with Dai Thao winning the seat.