Friday, December 21, 2018

A Tradition of Giving: The M. Lane Jensen Scholarship Story

Nearly every family has beloved traditions, and Leon Jensen’s holiday custom is especially meaningful. Each Christmas, rather than exchanging gifts, Leon and his family members donate to the M. Lane Jensen Scholarship fund at SLCC. Leon created the scholarship fund over 30 years ago when his son, Lane, died in a tragic accident at the age of 29.

For Leon and his family, creating the scholarship was the best way to heal from Lane’s untimely passing. “It’s a way of taking hurt and making some good out of it,” says Lane’s sister, Amber.

In describing Lane, both Amber and Leon recall his vibrant personality. “Nobody loved life more than Lane did,” says Amber. "He was a great dancer and the life of every party, and he loved participating in Utah’s outdoor sports activities.”

The scholarship also pays tribute to Leon’s parents, Moroni and Vivian. Both were educators for many years, and both were Utah State legislators and dedicated much of their lives to public service. Contributing to the scholarship fund each holiday season is the perfect way for the Jensen family to honor Lane and the legacies of Moroni and Vivian. “We are proud to be able to do it,” says Leon.

Over the years, the fund has helped many SLCC students who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford college tuition. One scholarship recipient, in a letter she wrote to thank the donors, said “I will never forget the opportunity that you have given me in my education. Thank you very much for giving me the chance to pursue and fight for my dreams.”

If you would like to honor your loved one with a memorial scholarship, please contact SLCC’s Development Office at (801) 957-4247.

Much More than a Game: Student Athletes Learn Life Lessons from Teammate’s Injury

Australian native Leichan Williams (seated center with ball) surrounded by her family away from home.

When Leichan “LJ” Williams fell during a recent away game against Western Wyoming Community College, her coaches and teammates first thought the 6-foot, 2-inch center had just wrangled an offensive rebound and scored. In assistant coach Marcilina Grayer’s basketball mind, LJ had just executed a play exactly the way they had practiced over and over.

Players fall all of the time in basketball, and some were yelling at LJ to “get up” after sinking her jump shot in the paint. And on a cold, snowy November night, her team up by 10 points, the 18-year-old did try, but something had gone terribly wrong inside the Rock Springs arena in that evening.

LJ rolled over on to her back and raised her right leg. At that point, everything and everyone just stopped. Some covered their eyes. Others literally ran away from what they saw. LJ had landed on another player, rolling and severely dislocating her ankle, the likes of which her coach, Betsy Specketer, and several teammates said they had never seen. Most, including LJ, thought she had also broken bones.

Pain and shock immediately set in for the Australian native, but what unfolded in the minutes, hours and days that followed has left an indelible imprint on everyone involved. The incident and aftermath changed players and coaches in ways none of them could have anticipated.

“I was just scared,” LJ says. She had been injured before, but not like this. For the first few moments, most in the arena initially had a reaction that could best be described as visceral.

Teammates Dixie Lainhart, Barrett Jessop and Miki’Ala Maio were the first to move past being horrified to rushing over to their friend’s side. Lainhart noticed a row of guys in the stands turn and run out of the arena.

Specketer and Grayer kept coaching in those first few seconds. “When I saw her go down, I thought she got fouled,” Specketer said. “I actually yelled, ‘Get up!’” Grayer was ecstatic about the move LJ made to score. “I was like, ‘Yes, there you go!’”

Then, for the first time in Specketer’s long, 500-plus win career, she felt like she could do nothing and took a few steps in the opposite direction of LJ. “I wanted someone to go help her,” she said. “My emotions were to stop this game. Then I walked back to the bench. All of a sudden something came to me, ‘You have to go to her.’ I rarely run out on the floor when someone goes down. I try to stay calm. I was anything but calm. For me, it was about LJ’s welfare.”

Grayer covered her eyes. “I’m trying not to see it, but I’m seeing it,” she said. People ran out and she was frozen. “I didn’t know what to do. I have never seen anything like that in my life.”

Coaching staff Kehana Grayer (l-r), Marcilina Grayer, Betsy Specketer (head coach) and Devin Reed.

Specketer, Grayer and their charges then began to see an empathic response from the Western Wyoming side as some from the stands helped shield and protect LJ’s privacy as she lay in wait for the paramedics. Once emergency responders arrived, they immediately began to treat LJ’s pain and began making preparations to transport her to the hospital. Teuila Alofipo, a guard for the Bruins, rode with her friend in the ambulance. “I was amazed at how tough she was,” recalled Alofipo.

Back at the arena, Western Wyoming’s athletic director Lu Sweet called her equivalent at SLCC, Kevin Dustin, and kept him apprised of events as they unfolded. The team was supposed to drive back to Utah that night, but with a snowstorm in the area and one of their own headed to the hospital, things got complicated fast. Throughout the night and the next day, Sweet helped make sure the Bruins found lodging and food in Rock Springs.

Sweet’s immediate handling of logistics allowed Specketer to take a question back to her team. “I asked them, ‘Can we finish this game?’ They said, ‘Yes, we need to finish this game.’”

With 10 minutes of basketball left to play, the Bruins took to the floor and, despite the shock brought on by previous events, won the game 64-58.

“It was very dramatic and traumatic for all of us,” Maio said. “I learned from this experience. We grew as basketball players and as people. We had to finish the game for LJ to show strength, togetherness. And we just wanted to get done with the game and go see her.”

Everyone piled into the team van and headed for the hospital. Specketer left her players in the heated vehicle with pizza while she checked on LJ. The news was good – no broken bones, and LJ would be allowed to check out of the hospital that night. Specketer rounded a corner on her way back to the van and saw the entire team in the waiting room. “It was heartwarming to see them,” she said. “And I thought, ‘We got this. We’re going to get through it.’”

Coaches can and should put up some barriers, Specketer said. But that night, the players saw their tough coaches in a little more vulnerable of a light. “It is more than a basketball game,” Specketer said. “They all kind of matured a little bit, I think.”

In Grayer’s non-basketball mind, she saw something more in her team that night and in the days that followed. “I didn’t know our team was that close,” she said. “I saw compassion. I saw them huddle together. That was an eye-opener to me. Basketball is so much more than a score. Emotionally, mentally, it’s family. That showed me it’s more than just a game.”

The team’s 6’2” center Tyra Carr, a Copper Hills High School graduate, was one of the first teammates to drive LJ around when she arrived in the area, and as a result they’ve formed a close bond. “This drew us closer. It gives you more of a reason to play,” Carr said. “At times you’re working out and you don’t know why, and it’s hard and you feel like you can’t keep going. Seeing that happen to LJ was an eye opener. This experience has made as stronger as a team, and it gives us a reason to play.”

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Math Success Center Helping Students Stay the Course

SLCC student Spencer Zimmerman sharpens his skills at the Math Success Center.

When math gets in the way of your goals you force yourself to understand it, but then something cool happens – you start to actually like math. At least that’s what has been happening with Spencer Zimmerman, who hopes someday to be an architect.

Until recently finding refuge at Salt Lake Community College’s Math Success Center, mathematics had been an academic nemesis for Zimmerman, 26, who since high school has struggled with numbers and equations. “They claimed I wasn’t trying hard enough,” he recalls. “They didn’t realize I needed extra help.”

For student Don Touti he discovered he was “rusty” at math. Touti, 20, is working to become a police detective someday. He took Math 980 this past semester and found he was shaky with algebra and worse with geometry. “When I used to come to class, it was annoying because I wasn’t learning anything,” Touti says. “When you’re not learning anything, you start to get upset.”

SLCC Don Touti receives instruction from math instructor Rachel Marcial.

Both students were referred by their instructors to the Math Success Center. Located in the basement of the Markosian Library at the Taylorsville Redwood Campus, the Math Success Center is a large room loaded with computers, white boards and patient tutors. There, students meet with instructors like Rachel Marcial, who has taught math at SLCC for the past three years.

There is something about the center that holds a special place in the heart of Marcial. “I really like it when students get that ‘a-ha’ moment,” she says.

Marcial sees the process of understanding math as a way to build a student’s confidence. “Some students need a refresher, they knew it and they forgot,” she says. “Some students never got it, and they just kept getting pushed on and the gap got bigger and bigger.” Regardless of the issue, the Math Success Center provides students with the extra help they need for getting their skills in line with their future goals. For example, Marcial has seen nursing students seriously consider changing their career trajectories because of the difficulties in mastering math but instead decided to stay the course after working with the center.

Marcial also aims to make students comfortable in asking questions. “Some are quiet because they’re scared of looking dumb. So, I tell them, if you ask me a question, chances are five other people have the same question – so, you’re going to be their savior for asking.”

For Touti, asking questions hasn’t been as much about how it might look as it has been about timing. “In class, it was moving too fast,” he says. “I didn’t have enough time to ask the teacher questions.” Math Success, he notes, is on his pace, helpful and, notably, free.

Zimmerman was, in fact, that student who was afraid to speak up. In the past, even the simplest equation looked a bit like a foreign language. He needed time and help breaking down basic math problems. Math Success, which he started in October, has since yielded many dividends for Zimmerman. “I actually understand multiplication and division, and those are two things I thought I’d never understand,” he says. “That feels great.” And even though courses like calculus loom in his future, he is imbued with a new sense of confidence. “I know it’s something I can accomplish. The resource center will be helpful. I’m very lucky to have that.”

SLCC’s Math Success Center is open Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Students arrive there by referral from instructors or by their own accord. Once they begin using the center’s services, students are required to meet once a week with an instructor to evaluate their progress in the program, to set new goals and to review the pace at which they’re working. Math Success is a personalized experience that focuses on an individual’s strengths and weaknesses while accommodating personal goals and busy schedules. For more information about the Math Success Center, email or call 801-957-5119.