NTC Students Discuss Experiences at Student Diversity Panel

Six Northwest Technical College students shared stories about how their backgrounds and experiences have influenced their lives as college students at a lunchtime Student Diversity Panel held Jan. 23 in the NTC Commons.

Students on the panel, attended by about 60 members of the college’s faculty, staff and student body, included:

  • Austin Jones, an NTC graduate who currently attends Bemidji State University as a psychology major;
  • Christopher Phelps, a 26-year military veteran who is pursuing an associate’s degree in electrical construction with hopes of owning his own business;
  • Michael Auginash, pursuing a degree in NTC’s electrical construction program;
  • Jonathan Burnett, who moved to the United States from Spain less than three years ago and is now pursuing an associate’s degree in business;
  • Ester Olson, originally from Brazil, who has been in the United States only four years and is pursuing a certificate in medical coding at NTC; and
  • Katie Howard, a member of the U.S. Army Reserves who is pursuing an associate’s degree in nursing.

The panelists each shared their reasons for wanting to participate in the panel discussion. Phelps said he brought the perspective of someone who was older than most of his classmates — classmates who don’t necessarily share the discipline he found in the military — and Auginash said he was “representing a diverse number of folks from back home on the rez.” Burnett and Olson both spoke to their experiences as people who came to the United States from other countries. Jones spoke as a member of the LGBT+ community, and Howard as a member of the U.S. Army Reserves.

The panelists pointed out many instances in which NTC’s faculty had gone the extra mile to help them succeed. Phelps specifically called out two faculty members in the panel’s audience who had supported him through required math courses.

“They helped me more times than I can count,” he said. “It’s a fearful subject for me, but talking to each of them made it easier for me. I thank them both for that.”

Auginash said he found great satisfaction in his efforts to help the electrical construction program build its float for Bemidji’s 2017 Night We Light parade, and he encouraged others to find some way to connect with the campus outside of the classroom.

“That was quite an experience,” he said. “My advice to you is to get involved in any way you can. It works.”

While the panelists all had generally positive things to say about the college and its support for diverse populations, they did indicate that student support services — particularly those offered through the college’s partnership with Bemidji State University — could be better advertised to students.

“I attended NTC and now I’m attending BSU, and it’s muddled,” Jones said. “I didn’t know what services were available to me, or if I should go to NTC or BSU for those services.”

Numerous suggestions were made on ways to improve campus life, from technological additions in the library to allow military veterans easier access to government computer systems, to the college doing more direct outreach to area schools to recruit more diverse students to campus, to providing an opportunity for diverse students to share food from their cultures with others on campus through organized events in the dining hall.

Darrin Strosahl, NTC’s vice president for academic affairs, said the panel offered proof that the college is succeeding in its mission to provide a supportive, caring environment for all students.

“This is a great reminder of what we do well,” he said. “Your choice to share your stories with us today allows us all to be strengthened.”

The panel was sponsored by NTC’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee and the BSU/NTC Center for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.