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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

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.”

Stephanie Glaros, Connecting with the Human Side of the Story

Posted on: November 5th, 2015 by insidemctc No Comments

Stephanie Glaros

Stephanie Glaros’ interest in social justice began her very first year of college. That interest took her on a long and rich path to several colleges, states, jobs and, presently, to the faculty roster at Minneapolis Community and Technical College and the Humans of Minneapolis.

“I took a Women’s Studies class at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, and it helped me connect the dots between what I had been experiencing and what were systematic problems,” she said. “It was like a bell went off in my head.” Stephanie began seeing parallels between women’s social justice and other systemic issues. “At that point, the greater concept of social justice became not just an interest, but a passion.”

After transferring, working and finishing college in the Rocky Mountains, Stephanie traveled, took short-term jobs and eventually found herself working in downtown Minneapolis as a marketing assistant. “I was being directed by finance-minded people, and what they were asking me to do didn’t make sense intuitively. But I had no design background, and no vocabulary to describe why what they were telling me to do wasn’t right.”
Stephanie looked into design classes, and found MCTC in her backyard. “MCTC offered night classes at a time when I was working days. I could afford it, and it was located downtown,” she said. “While I was a student here, something just clicked for me. Graphic design was a way to combine my creative side with my desire to organize things. I felt like I finally found what I wanted to do when I grew up.”

After finishing her degree, Stephanie joined the small staff of the downtown Minneapolis-based Utne Reader magazine as its art director. There, she found a way to connect her career with her passion. “My educational background and trade fit with my interest in progressive politics and social justice issues,” she said. “I was a one-person art department. I had the opportunity to sift through some of the best photojournalism in the world. I learned the power of photojournalism and storytelling.”

It was the perfect match for Stephanie. “My background in graphic design and passion for social justice issues shape my work. My goal is to capture emotional stories, challenge prejudices, and increase empathy.” On her walks to work—camera in hand—she began capturing the emotional stories of  strangers in Minneapolis. “I took photos of anything I saw: the homeless shelter, the Greyhound Bus station; I found myself passing the same people every day, but I’d never interact with them. We were outside of each other’s circles. That started to feel very strange to me, and I decided to use my camera as an excuse to break that barrier.”

In 2010, the blog Humans of New York began publishing its collection of street photography. Stephanie followed it closely, drawn to the way the photographs shone a spotlight on otherwise overlooked individuals in the country’s largest city. Not long after, she realized she was already meeting and photographing the humans of Minneapolis. In 2013, she started her own blog by that name, bringing her pastime in line with a growing national movement to engage communities in storytelling.

“When I realized that’s where my interests had taken me, something clicked: telling stories is what I love to do. It brings together my background of photography, editorial journalism, graphic design and social justice.”

In the midst of her career and personal and professional growth, Stephanie was approached by one of her former Graphic Design instructors at MCTC who was about to take a sabbatical. He invited her to teach in his absence. That was the year 2011, and Stephanie has been teaching future generations of graphic designers ever since.

Today, in addition to teaching courses and telling the stories of the humans of Minneapolis, Stephanie writes a regular column in Southwest Journal, and is working on a community engagement project for the City of Minneapolis.

“I’ve realized how much of myself comes through in my work—not only in who I talk to, but in the parts of an interview I select. I’ve learned to trust my gut, and trust who I can connect with.”

Pearl Christenson DREAM Memorial Fund

Posted on: October 26th, 2015 by marketingworkstudy No Comments

Pearl-Christenson-200Pearl Christenson was the child of Norwegian immigrants and lived the American dream of opportunity. Together with her husband Jerry, she raised a family of six children with the fundamental belief that access to education is the key to success for all who call America home, including immigrants.

Pearl was an early and consistent supporter of Power of YOU, a program which covers the cost of attending Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC) or St. Paul College for two years for Minneapolis, St. Paul, and inner suburban high school graduates. She also understood the critical challenges facing our new immigrants, knowing that 24% of students now in Minneapolis public schools are immigrants and refugees. She was amazed to learn that 60% of the 2015 nursing graduates from MCTC were born outside the U.S. Additionally, she cared deeply for students who have come to the U.S. as children but have “undocumented” status, which poses great barriers to pursuing college and the American dream. She was fascinated with MCTC’s effort to provide special scholarships for these undocumented DREAMers.

This year, MCTC is piloting scholarship support for a special cohort of seventeen Power of YOU students who are otherwise ineligible for governmental aid because of their undocumented status. The Christenson family can think of no greater way to honor Pearl and her life of commitment to education and opportunity. You can learn how to contribute your support to the Pearl Christenson DREAM Memorial Fund by clicking https://give.minneapolis.edu. All of us who love Pearl thank you.

See Pearl’s obituary here. She passed away in October, 2015.

Theater Arts Instructor Michael Kissin Slows his Role…but Not by Much

Posted on: October 26th, 2015 by marketingworkstudy No Comments
MCTC Theater Arts Instructor, Michael Kissin Photo Courtesy of Aaron Lavinsky, Star Tribune

MCTC Theater Arts Instructor Michael Kissin
Photo Courtesy of Aaron Lavinsky, Star Tribune

Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC) Theater Arts Instructor Michael Kissin was featured in a recent article in the Star Tribune for his role in the play The Twenty-Seventh Man currently running at the Minnesota Jewish Theater Company. Michael Kissin is an actor, director and musician in addition to his teaching role at MCTC, and has been a company member at the Mixed Blood Theatre for over 20 years. Michael has directed plays including Talley’s Folly, Goats, My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding and Stars of David, and starred in the one-man show Boychik.

The original story is posted below.

Michael Kissin feels connection to MJTC’s ‘The Twenty-Seventh Man’

Twin Cities stage vet Michael Kissin honors his Jewish roots in a play about Stalin’s purge of Yiddish writers.