Friday, June 26, 2015

Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses graduates 93 scholars at SLCC

More than 90 entrepreneurs representing three cohorts of participants graduated this week at Salt Lake Community College from the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program and brought the total number of graduates to 215 since the program began in January of 2013

FatPipe Networks business owner Sanchaita Datta addresses graduates.

Over the past year, 93 business owners who took part in the program represented industries that include construction, manufacturing, retail and transportation. Together, these businesses employ 1,611 people and represent over $145 million in revenues.  Participants received practical business and management education, business support services, and access to capital to help their businesses grow. A new report recently released by Babson College shows that 10,000 Small Businesses program graduates report revenue growth and job creation at a higher rate than small businesses nationally. Almost 100 percent of the scholars graduate, with 84 percent who report doing business with each other after graduation.  In addition, 76 percent report increased revenues by 18 months after graduating and 57 percent report the creation of new jobs 18 months after graduating.

Graduates listen to Vérité CEO Kim Jones speak.

“Each graduate of the Salt Lake program deserves recognition for a substantial time commitment dedicated to completing a rigorous training program that has repeatedly proven to help grow businesses,” said Karen Gunn, executive director of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program at SLCC. “We are proud to honor 93 business owners whose lives and companies have been transformed because of their investment in themselves, their businesses, and in the local economy.”

Nationally, the 10,000 Small Businesses program started in 2009 and, with more than 125 partners and affiliate organizations, has helped nearly 5,000 small business owners through 23 sites and a national blended learning program. A $500 million investment by Goldman Sachs and the Goldman Sachs Foundation supports the project in partnership with Babson College and the Initiative for A Competitive Inner City.  Local partners in Utah include the State of Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development, SLCC, Mountain West Small Business Finance, and the Salt Lake and Utah State Hispanic Chambers of Commerce.

Prospective applicants to the program are required to have between $150,000 and $4 million in revenues, have been in business for at least two years, and have at least four full-time employees.

A graduate waves to his family.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

SLCC student amassing treasure trove of Special Olympics medals

On a hot Wednesday in June Salt Lake Community College student Faith Joy Anderson emptied the shiny contents of a blue plastic bag on to SLCC academic advisor Glory Johnson-Stanton’s desk. Anderson beamed as she talked about the medals she won recently during the Special Olympics Utah Summer Games at Lone Peak High School and the more than 40 gold, silver and bronze medals she has won over the years as an Olympian.

SLCC President Deneece G. Huftalin (l-r), Faith Joy Anderson and Kauai Community College Chancellor Helen Cox

Her status as a multiple medal winner in Special Olympics games and a student at a community college is a far cry from the very difficult upbringing Anderson talks about. She recounts being born with fetal alcohol syndrome, being taken away with her siblings from her biological parents, suffering abuse growing up, leaving her adoptive family at 17, enduring occasional seizures and, at one point, considering suicide. She’s been telling her story over the past few years to Johnson-Stanton, who sees Anderson drawing, reading or just hanging out at the Student Center on the Taylorsville Redwood Campus.

Closing in on 50 Special Olympics medals

“After getting to know her better, she has a childlike beautiful innocence, very trusting and eager to share her story,” Johnson-Stanton said. “I believe that this is what it’s truly like not allowing racism, bigotry, prejudices or any other derogatory ‘isms’ taught or learned in life to determine how we treat people. She accepts me as I am, without judgment, criticism and showing genuine interest.” She describes Anderson as a “kind, friendly, soft spoken and intuitive young woman” who loves people. “I asked Faith what brought her to SLCC,” Johnson-Stanton said. “She said, ‘Myself, I wanted to be a student. I brought myself to college to be just like everyone else. To be a student to show that I have courage, that I can learn, build up all my skills that I never understood growing up and to prove that I can do these things.’ When you have a student as determined as Faith to perform well in class, in spite of differences or challenges in her life, our role at SLCC is to assist her with tools to obtain access and success toward her goals and dreams.”

Faith Joy Anderson takes time out for her art.

Anderson discovered SLCC for herself when walking by South City Campus along State Street one day. “When I saw this building downtown, I looked at it and wondered, ‘What is that building? What do they do?’” she said. “I went over there one day and I said, ‘I want to know how to join.’” And the word “join” is one she uses to describe being a student at SLCC, feeling like she is part of something bigger than just being a student in a classroom. It’s the same feeling she gets competing in Special Olympics events, where she walks, runs, plays basketball and softball and golfs her way to medal after medal. Agnes Marino, a Special Olympics coach in Utah for the past 30 years, said Anderson is known for not letting a weakness get the better of her. “She doesn’t give up, even when something is kind of hard for her,” Marino said. The two have become friends, and Anderson often talks about her experiences at SLCC.  “She is so excited every time a new semester starts. She tells me about the friends she’s made there. She is very happy in her life right now.”

As the summer session continues, Anderson can often be found around the Student Center in Taylorsville. “It’s a major home,” she said about SLCC. “Like a Number 10, which is awesome.” Her aim someday is to be a teacher of art, and to continue being a student at SLCC. “Student for life,” she said. “That’s my goal, never stop learning. I want to feel like I can do just like everyone else can do.” When asked if she had anything else to add, she smiled, “SLCC, I thank you for letting me be in your life. That’s it.”

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

SLCC Library Staff Member Featured on KSL

Markosian Library staff member Andrew Lyon was highlighted on KSL News in April. The feature was intended to bring autism awareness to the forefront. Lyon's inspirational and motivational story exemplifies the success of individuals with autism.

He's a valued member of SLCC's library team and continues to contribute on the circulation desk and to work toward achieving his goals. 

"There is evidence that more employers are becoming aware of the unique skills adults with autism bring to the workforce," writes KSL's Sandra Olney. "In fact, some adults with autism are using work and higher education to achieve independence." 

Lyon graduated from SLCC in May with an associate's degree in music. His job at the library has helped him to balance work, school and life. "I'm so glad that he went ahead and made this choice," said Lyon's mother, Kara Lyon. "He's really grown a ton, and it's been impressive." 

KSL at the end of this video and article states that Lyon is looking for a new job. However, he remains happily in his position at the Markosian Library.

Monday, June 15, 2015

SLCC’s newest community garden will help stock campus food pantry

On a small lot where an old house once stood near Salt Lake Community’s South City Campus, 20 boxes filled with dirt will soon yield fresh vegetables for low-income students using the campus’s Bruin Food Pantry.

Volunteers work on community garden at South City Campus

SLCC bought the old house along 1700 South, demolished it and paved the way for the College’s third plot for a community garden – the other two are near the Taylorsville and Jordan campuses. At the South City site, Grainger Industrial Supply donated money toward the project, and staffers at nearby Whittier Elementary School and South City Campus Daycare pitched in some sweat equity.

The water lines and boxes before installation

The idea for a community garden at South City came from SLCC Community Partnerships coordinator Sean Crossland and the College’s Disability Resource Center assistant director, Steven Lewis, who helped start the other two gardens. The boxes at South City were quickly spoken for, and Lewis said the plan now is to offer up the garden’s “bounty,” when fully ripe, twice a week at the Food Pantry.

Steven Lewis

Friday, June 5, 2015

SLCC student a top female in national mathematics competition

Salt Lake Community College student Maria Sinoy was recently awarded a complimentary membership into the professional society Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) for her performance in the national Student Mathematics League (SML) competition.

Maria Sinoy

For the past six years the SLCC math department has been competing in the competition, which like the field of math itself comprises a disproportionate number of female to male participants. The SML was founded in 1970 and in 1981 the American Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges assumed sponsorship of SML. The annual competition draws more than 165 colleges from more than 35 states and involves in excess of 8,000 community college math students. Sinoy, whose specialty is biology, noted the significance of her award and skills in math as a female.

“I feel pretty proud,” Sinoy said. “I am representing the women of the biology department.” She said women who are “afraid” of math might miss different kinds of beauty that can be found throughout life, referencing the famous Fibonacci sequence, which, for example, can be seen in the patterns of leaves, fruit and flowers of many tree and plant species. “It gives you a better understanding of why things work the way they do,” she said about the mix of math and biology. As Sinoy has tackled math problems over the years, she hasn’t been afraid to fail. “It’s a fun challenge,” she said. “If you mess up, you get to start over and over again.” To anyone struggling in math, she advises, “Learn to love patterns and puzzles, because they’re what make math fun.”

The nonprofit AWM was founded in 1971 to “encourage women and girls to study and to have active careers in the mathematical sciences, and to promote equal opportunity and the equal treatment of women and girls in mathematical sciences."

“I think Maria’s performance in the competition and her resulting membership in the Association for Women in Mathematics speaks volumes about the potential and capability of females who might be interested in math but are afraid to embrace its complexities and beauty because of skewed societal norms,” said SLCC Mathematics Associate Dean Suzanne Mozdy. “Statistics show that men are more likely to pursue a career in mathematics or a related field, but women like Maria continue to show that those numbers only tell part of the story, and that the narrative can and should be changed for the greater good in ways that are quantifiable and ever-arching more toward equality.”

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Sundance Propels Former SLCC Student Into ‘Who’s Who’ of Filmmaking

"Now they know who I am."

By “they,” filmmaker Tony Vainuku means Robert Redford, whom he met during an event for directors at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival in Park City. And he means actor/producer Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who called Vainuku during the festival to say he wanted to throw his support behind “In Football We Trust,” a documentary which Vainuku co-directed with former Utah resident Erika Cohn. And by “they” he means the likes of HBO, movie distributors, directors, producers, actors, and the scores of people in the film industry he met while on the whirlwind tour that comes with getting a film accepted into the annual 10-day Sundance Film Festival.

Filmmaker Tony Vainuku at South City Campus, home to the Grand Theatre

Not bad for a guy who grew up poor in Salt Lake City, moving around because his parents couldn’t pay the rent, moving out at age 17 to fend for himself, and moving from job to job until the words “higher education” entered the career equation.

Vainuku, 36, who is half Tongan and half Dutch, grew up with four siblings in the neighborhood around SLCC’s South City Campus, which was South High School until he was about 9. He attended Whittier Elementary School, which is just across the parking lot on the east side of the South City Campus. By the time he reached Hillside Middle School on the east side of the valley, Vainuku had already been playing youth league football – and loving it, just like his Polynesian uncles and cousins who were also good at the game. “We all looked forward to playing,” he said. “My brothers and I all wanted to play when we were old enough.”

The socioeconomic makeup of Vainuku’s peers changed at Hillside, where he noticed white kids would pack white cheese in their sack lunches. Vainuku’s family had been on welfare and only knew of the “orange” color of the free “government” cheese his family consumed. “I used to think white cheese was only for rich people,” he said. “That’s how poor I was.” But the young Vainuku already had in him charm, charisma, entrepreneurial spirit, a positive attitude, and natural curiosity – the nucleus of a better future, which meandered its way toward a documentary five years in the making.

Vainuku developed his own sense of style in middle school, wearing – and, by default, marketing – his signature “reggae” beaded necklace in colors red, gold and green, made with materials he purchased cheaply at a craft store. The “preps,” or more well-to-do white kids, liked the look and began offering him lunch money – $3 to $5 – for one just like it. At his peak business, Vainuku was bringing bags full of necklaces to school and making $70 a week, which enabled him to purchase his first basketball standard. By the time high school rolled around, Vainuku had also tried filmmaking, grabbing a VHS video camera and shooting mock interviews with “famous” basketball players, aka his little brothers. “I always kind of had a knack that way,” he said. “I was playing with a camera as soon as I got a hold of one.”

Tony Vainuku sits down for an interview with a SLCC student

After middle school, Vainuku was on his way to Highland High School and a promising football stint as a starter. But by his mid-sophomore year, already working jobs as a dishwasher and grocery bagger, he was unable to balance school, a job, and football – his grades slid south, and football paid the price.

At 17, his parents divorced and Vainuku started sharing rent on an apartment with his college-age sister, working his way through high school and taking a drama class along the way. He was into watching movies, but instead of being a passive observer of films like “The Shawshank Redemption,” a favorite of his, he was an engaged viewer, dissecting movies in the same ways a film student might. For Vainuku, films were an escape and a fortuitous early, albeit informal, education in movie making.

After graduating from Highland, Vainuku took jobs installing windows, working as a forklift driver in a warehouse, and finally a gig working directly with customers at Continental Airlines, a reminder that hard labor and punching a clock wasn’t for this self-described charismatic people person. “It got to a point where education was a must,” he said, in search of something different from a career that he thought college could provide. A friend attending SLCC drew him to the College’s South City Campus, where Vainuku took acting and film classes and garnered encouragement from instructors to pursue a career in the movie industry.

After filming a few shorts, he and a friend pulled off, as Vainuku describes it, a “quasi Frank Abagnale Jr.,” the con artist who inspired the film “Catch Me If You Can.” Vainuku and his friend placed an ad in a newspaper and used SLCC to set up a table and camera, looking for extras and a man and woman to play the lead characters for a short film they wanted to produce. “One guy sat down, and he says, ‘How do I get to where you guys are at?’” Vainuku recalled. “I’m behind the camera, smiling and chuckling.” They finagled free food for the cast and a free place to shoot, they looked every bit the part of movie producers and they even told people they might enter the finished product in the Sundance Film Festival. Ultimately, they ended up with a film that went nowhere. “The experience helped me to understand that we could get it done. That, if we wanted to film an idea, there were plenty of people around to help film it,” Vainuku said. But movie making took a back seat to finishing his college education.

Vainuku transferred his general education credits from SLCC to Westminster College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business marketing while working in sales. During that time, he also launched a multimedia company called Soul Profile Productions. “In Football We Trust” started as an idea to do a film about his uncle Joe Katoa, a promising Polynesian football player with NFL hopes who instead ended up in prison for 10 years. That original idea still exists on YouTube under the title “Culture Clash: Raised To Play Football.” But as industry people such as director Jared Hess (“Napoleon Dynamite”), NYU’s Alice Elliott, and renowned executive producer Geralyn Dreyfous (“Born Into Brothels”) took notice of Vainuku’s efforts, he was encouraged to expand the scope of his project. He was introduced to award-winning director Erika Cohn, who helped pull all the pieces together. And instead of making a one-character movie about how football plays into the Polynesian community in the U.S., Vainuku and Cohn followed four Polynesian high school players from Utah. Vainuku found financial backing from a Chevron executive who had served a Peace Corps mission in Tonga, and a financially savvy Cohn stretched those dollars. “We started making a movie,” Vainuku said. “We both learned so much. We grew together. We both sacrificed so much.” When it was complete, they knew they had something good, something worth entering into the crème de la crème of film festivals: Sundance. After entering, they waited.

The call from Sundance programming director Trevor Groth came while Vainuku was at his office in Sugarhouse. “He says, ‘I went to Highland. My father coached football there. So, I watched this movie carefully. I just want to say you guys did such a beautiful job. You took your time. You told a truthful and impactful story,’” Vainuku recalls Groth saying. “I’m speechless. I can’t talk. I don’t know what I’m saying. So, I say, ‘I’ll let you go – you’re busy.’ I was wanting to get off the phone and scream.” And Vainuku wanted to call everyone, which he did, despite being told not to. Mom cried. Family members cheered. Cohn, working on a film in the Middle East at the time, went “bananas” during a call. Jared Hess, a Sundance veteran, said on the phone, “‘Dude, did you get the call?’” Vainuku said. “I was like, yeah, and he was like, ‘Yeah!’” Sundance now knew the name Vainuku, and word quickly spread.

On the night before the premiere at The Grand Theatre, Vainuku was having dinner with cast members and their families when he was told by the movie’s distribution company, Relativity Media, to keep his phone line open. Somewhere between “May I take your order?” and “Check, please,” Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson called Vainuku. “He says, ‘Is this Tony?’ and I was like, ‘This is Tony,’ and he says, ‘This is The Rock,’” Vainuku recalls. “I started laughing – we both started laughing. I told him, ‘I knew if I could get this movie to you that you would identify with it.’” Vainuku said Johnson told him he liked the movie’s spirit and its portrayal of Polynesian culture. Finally, it was time to show the film to its first real audience – more than 1,100 people.

Tony Vainuku (third from right) answers questions about his film at Park City's Egyptian Theatre

Sundance Institute Native American and Indigenous Program Director Bird Runningwater, introduced the film at the sold-out Grand Theatre premiere. “He said, ‘Tony, this is the most beautiful and diverse crowd I’ve ever seen in all of my experiences at Sundance,’” Vainuku said. “He was like, ‘I’ve never seen such a crowd.’” He received a standing ovation before the film started. “I told them, ‘Let’s not stand up yet. You haven’t seen the movie.’” But when the movie was over, the crowd stood and applauded again as Vainuku and co-director Erika Cohn relished the moment. Cohn auditioned for plays at the Grand Theatre and attended community events there while growing up in Utah. “The feeling was indescribable, to have that large and diverse of a crowd the first time that we screened the film,” Cohn said. “Tony and I looked over at each other during the screening with our jaws dropped and asked, ‘Is this really happening?’” Cohn said one of her other memorable Sundance experiences included showing the film to about 500 high school students from Utah at the Rose Wagner Theatre in Salt Lake City. “We were all so impressed by the questions they asked and by how they fell in love with the subjects (in the movie),” she said. Her goal is to build off of that experience and show the film at high schools around the country this summer in conjunction with what she hopes will be a nationwide theatrical release. And more and more people will know the name Vainuku.

As one amazing moment blended into the next throughout the festival for Vainuku, including that brief conversation he had with Redford, he soaked it all up. “Everything just kind of melted into the same feeling – I was just on a high,” he said. “It was surreal.” Showings at two other Sundance sites sold out, including at the iconic Sundance venue Egyptian Theatre on Main Street in Park City. People have started recognizing Vainuku, whose social media numbers have shot up. “People love to love him,” said Vainuku’s girlfriend Marie Varanakis. “People want to take pictures or at least say ‘Hi’ and ‘Congratulations.’ He loves it. It’s fun to be recognized for something you’ve done.” To which Vainuku replied, “Yeah, it’s fun. It’s different. I still don’t feel like anything special.” But he and his movie have been deemed special by many people who now know who he is. “The saying is, ‘It’s who you know,’” Vainuku said. “But here, what it proves to be is, it’s who knows you. Sundance gives you a platform to show what you do. Getting into Sundance gives you a chance to shine. It’s huge validation. Now they know who I am. I don’t need a business card. I’ve got Google.”

See stories like this and more in the next issue of SLCC Magazine.