FVCC Engineering Grads and Students Highlight Ambassadors and Alumni Spring Luncheon

Ryan Mitchell, center, office manager of the Robert Peccia and Associates Kalispell office and recipient of FVCC’s 2012 Distinguished Alumni Award, stands with Ambassadors and Alumni Chair Suzy Williams, left, and FVCC President Jane Karas, Ph.D., at the college’s annual Ambassadors and Alumni Spring Luncheon.

At Flathead Valley Community College’s annual Ambassadors and Alumni Spring Luncheon March 15, over 120 guests comprised of FVCC alumni, former and current FVCC students and faculty, friends of the college and area business professionals gathered at the college to hear a panel discussion on FVCC’s emerging engineering transfer program as well as witness the presentation of the college’s 2012 Distinguished Alumni Award.

FVCC Engineering Instructor Dr. Effat Rady, who earned her doctorate and master’s degrees from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, launched the panel discussion by sharing her perspective of the growth and success of the program since she join the college faculty in 2003.  During her first year at FVCC, there were only two students enrolled in her engineering classes.  Throughout her 10-year tenure, she has partnered with the local high schools and with Montana State University (MSU) and Montana Tech to grow the program six-fold.  Last year, she had 12 students, and she hopes to double that number in five years.  Although Rady is pleased with the progress, she stressed that the program’s success is not only measured by how many students it has, but also by how well students perform when they transfer to other colleges and universities to continue their engineering studies.

“I was determined to work hard to make our students very well prepared academically,” she said.  “Many of our students are able to achieve 4.0 grade points after transferring from FVCC.  We’re getting very popular at MSU.”

College Physics Instructor Jim Boger, who earned a master’s degree from Montana State University, joined the college three years ago after teaching physics to second-year cadets at the United States Air Force Academy.  He admitted that he was prepared to find a lower caliber of students at FVCC but has been surprised at the high level of students he’s encountered.

“Most students at the academy had nearly perfect SAT scores,” he said.  “It was quite a shock to get up to FVCC and find a group of students who actually performed better than the students I had at the academy.”

Over the past few years, Boger has taken an active role in helping students get involved with the Montana Space Grant Consortium, a component of NASA’s National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program.  Through the consortium, which is housed at MSU, some students are currently taking part in a competition to design and build a ground-based solar spectrograph as part of an undergraduate interdisciplinary team.

Mark Waatti, owner of Waatti Engineering in Kalispell, talks about his experience as an engineering student at FVCC at the college’s annual Ambassadors and Alumni Spring Luncheon.

“I talked to the Montana Space Grant Consortium, and they think FVCC students are very good.  They are slightly worried that our students might actually come up with a better spectrograph,” Boger said smiling proudly.  “We hope they do.”

Mark Waatti, owner of Waatti Engineering in Kalispell, talked about his experience as an engineering student at FVCC.

“I wanted a quality education, and I wanted it to be affordable,” he said.  “When I got done at FVCC, I was debt free.”

Waatti said he continued to realize the benefits available at FVCC when he enrolled in the college’s welding program to meet continuing education requirements for his engineering license.

“I was getting a little tired of the webinars and dry seminars.  That’s when I checked into FVCC and realized I could count my welding class hours toward my continuing education,” he said.

Panelist Ryan Mitchell, former FVCC surveying student and office manager of the Robert Peccia and Associates Kalispell office, discussed why his company hires FVCC students.  Each of the five engineering professionals hired by the company since 2005 for its Kalispell branch has been a graduate of FVCC.

“It’s simply because I know the quality of students they put out,” he stated.  “I experienced it first-hand.  I know how well prepared I was when I transferred to Bozeman.”

Mitchell went on to say that part of what makes FVCC such a great college is that the faculty teach students how to learn on their own and problem solve.   He feels that the students are well rounded in their abilities to learn independently, and in turn, they effectively utilize their education to find solutions in professional engineering environments.

The panel also included two current engineering students.  Jamesen Motley finished FVCC’s engineering transfer program last year before transferring to MSU to study mechanical engineering.  Gunnar Pope is finishing his last semester at FVCC and will continue his college studies in pursuit of a master’s degree in mechanical engineering with a focus on systems control.  Both students praised the high level of instructors at FVCC and the opportunities the program has presented them.

“In every way, I have felt totally prepared for classes at MSU,” said Motley.  “I feel in some areas even more prepared than the average student because I had an amazing opportunity to be in such a small community with such great professors.  When you’re learning things as integral as mathematics or physics, this is immensely helpful.”

He says Dr. Rady encouraged him to pursue engineering, and he laughed as he called it “the best decision anyone else ever made for me.”

“I would like to thank Effat.  If the school and the program hadn’t been there, I don’t know where I would be,” said Motley.

Pope, a returning college student who earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Colorado Boulder before moving to the Flathead Valley to open a construction business in Whitefish, decided to head back to school to study engineering at FVCC.  At the luncheon, he expressed his gratitude toward his instructors, especially admiring their enthusiasm for their students, their breadth of knowledge, and their commitment to the field.

“The decision to return to school has led to some of the most rewarding years of my life.  This is my last year at FVCC, and the parting seems a little bitter sweet,” Pope said.  “Part of me doesn’t want to say goodbye to my classmates and professors because we’ve grown so close over the past two years, but the other part of me understands that there is nothing our professors would want more than to see their students accelerate forward and become the world class engineers that we’re trained to be.”

At the conclusion of the panel discussion, the college’s third annual Distinguished Alumni Award was presented.  The award is given to an individual whose career achievements, service to others, and passion for FVCC rises above the rest.  Past recipients include Lori Nicholas, a former Upward Bound student who serves as Instructional Specialist in the FVCC Math Lab, and Margaret LeKander, Owner of Wheaton’s in Kalispell.  This year’s award was presented to a very surprised Ryan Mitchell who thought he was at the luncheon only to participate as part of the panel discussion.

Mitchell is a Columbia Falls High School graduate.  He received his Associate of Applied Science in Surveying from FVCC in 1996 and went on to receive a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from MSU.  Upon graduation, he went to work for Montana-based civil engineering and land surveying company, Robert Peccia and Associates.  After six years with the company, he was given the responsibility to establish and manage a branch office in the Flathead Valley where he remains today.  Mitchell is a huge supporter of FVCC and can often be found on campus mentoring students or providing support to engineering and surveying faculty.  The college also acknowledged and thanked Mitchell for his advocacy for FVCC in the community.

The FVCC Ambassadors and Alumni was created to bring former students and friends of the college together to create a spirit of loyalty and support through continued engagement with FVCC.   It is open to FVCC graduates, all who attended FVCC as a student, and friends of the college.

For more information about FVCC Ambassadors and Alumni or about the Distinguished Alumni Award, contact Nancy Clawson at 756-3632 or at nclawson@fvcc.edu.  For more information about FVCC’s engineering transfer program, visit fvcc.edu/engineering-transfer.html or contact Rady at 756-3375 or at erady@fvcc.edu.

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