MCTC

The MCTC News Blog

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.”

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.

Felisha Burns: Seeking a Career, Not Just a Job

Posted on: October 16th, 2014 by insidemctc 1 Comment

Felisha Burns, MCTC alumFelisha Burns had to grow up fast.

A native of South Minneapolis, she lost her mother at age 13. “My dad raised me, but he worked a lot,” she said. “He worked second shift at the postal service. If I got home from school and he wasn’t there, I had to work things out for myself.”

She began working at age 14—first at Burger King, then at a gas station near Loring Park in Downtown Minneapolis. “I worked there for awhile and made enough to pay for my own place. It was great while I was young, but eventually I asked myself if I wanted to be doing that for the rest of my life.”

When Felisha’s cousin told her she was considering going back to school, Felisha realized it was a great next step. “We did it together,” she said. “That’s when my journey began.”

When Felisha began studying at the school then known as Minneapolis Community College (MCC), she focused her energy on acquiring one degree. “When I was done just two years later, the college was called MCTC, and I had five diplomas and certificates.”

Felisha knew she wanted to work in a business office, and throughout her studies in Business Office Technology picked up skills in keyboarding, data entry, business math and specialized office support. She needed a job to support herself during school, and started working at TCF Bank, where she would stay for five years. During her time at MCTC, Felisha was invited to participate in a business speaking competition in Duluth. “I was surprised my instructor asked me, but she believed I could succeed,” she said. “When I arrived at the competition and drew a random speech topic, it turned out to be the same topic I focused on all semester in class. I knew I could deliver that speech.”

As graduation grew closer, Felisha grew into her adult self. “When my classmates and I first started at the College, we didn’t have a clue who each other was,” she said. “But the closer I got to graduation, the more nervous I was, and my classmates felt the same way. We all had things going on in our lives. We all knew what our goals were and we all supported each other.” Felisha and her classmates attended graduation together in the Northrup Auditorium.

Furthering her career, Felisha moved from TCF to a position with Hennepin County, where she provided economic assistance to elderly or disabled individuals. “I worked there for another five years,” said Felisha. “It gave me an understanding of our society and people who are in need. Ever since then I’ve been committed to working with people in need. I love it.”

Now, 15 years after she graduated from MCTC, Felisha works with the City of Minneapolis, working as a personal assistant and attending outreach events. “I work with the Step Up program, adults, dislocated workers, families and high school age students,” she said. “Whenever I see young people come in, I ask if they’re planning to go to school.”

Felisha looks back at the last two decades and sees much to be proud of. “I went from low income to the middle class,” she said. “I tell other young people that I had to grow up fast, and if I can make this success happen, so can they. Along the way they’ll meet some amazing people, and they just need to start the process.”