Tag Archives: Iowa Western Community College

The Goal 
Smasher

August 30, 2017 by
Photography by Sarah Lemke

Jose Soria’s summer vacation was not about sleeping in late and hanging out aimlessly. To the contrary, Soria spent the long, hot days of June, July, and August taking summer classes—not because he had to—but because he wanted to.

His preference for learning over spending his days at the beach began when he found out after his freshman year that his school offers students the opportunity to take college courses alongside their regular coursework. “I looked into the general education class requirements to get into the nursing program and started taking those,” he said. “I’d rather take them now instead of waiting to take them when I get to college.”

As a result, he’ll begin college with some of his required classes already completed, decreasing the overall time, and money, he’ll spend in college before he can begin his career.

He enjoys the opportunity to take these classes now while still in high school. He says this program is different from taking AP classes. “They’re similar to AP classes, but in AP classes you have to take an exam to see if you’re eligible for the college credit. What I’m doing now is [joint enrollment] with Iowa Western Community College.”

According to educateiowa.gov, the concurrent (or joint) enrollment program provides opportunities for high school students to enroll part-time in courses at or through community colleges. Per “Senior Year Plus,” concurrent enrollment courses are offered through contractual agreements between community colleges and school districts within their service area.

That means because Soria is a high-achieving high school student, he has taken courses ranging from college-level composition to intro to health care occupations, and the Council Bluffs School District paid the fees for those courses taken during the school year.

Soria hopes to go into the medicine field as a nurse, or working in surgery in some capacity. He’s drawn to the field because he wants the opportunity to “help a person out and make their day better.” His favorite classes are chemistry and health science, not surprisingly. He enjoys chemistry in particular because he is able to create something out of other things. Soria recently applied to volunteer at a local hospital and hopes to gain valuable experience in the medical field through volunteering.

When not studying or volunteering, Soria can be found exercising daily. “I walk or run every day,” he said, further demonstrating his ability to set a goal and work toward it.

His parents are from Mexico and were not able to finish high school. “They came to the U.S. to give us a better future,” he said. “This pushed me to become more independent and strive to get as much education as I can before I graduate.” Though he was born in Mexico, he has not yet visited there. Now an American citizen, his summers away from high school are full of “school, homework, and making sure I’m on track.” 

Soria has advice for anyone else who wants to accomplish their goals. “It doesn’t matter what your past is,” Soria says. “Always think ahead, and just because you’ve had a certain situation, it doesn’t mean you can’t succeed. Do it for yourself.”

This article was printed in the Fall 2017 edition of Family Guide.

Jenny Kruger

July 22, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Midwestern farmland can be described in many ways. Paisley, however, is not a descriptor that normally comes to mind. Artist Jenny Kruger, however, often sees paisley on the farm—at least in paint.

Her art consists of colorful floral patterns serving as backdrops to barns or rural settings. Everyday landscapes become surreal. The brightly hued paintings are nostalgic, byproducts of Kruger’s nomadic youth.

Home has always been more of a feeling than a physical place for the artist. Her works are more about what she remembers than what a place actually looked like.

“I never really had a strong sense of home being tied to a location,” says Kruger. “It’s memories.”

Lately, her work has become bigger and grander. Kruger is currently working on a triptych that will measure 6 feet wide by the time she finishes the three panels. “I keep getting bigger because I think the landscapes need to breathe,” she says.

JennyKruger2She works on the weekends and whenever time allows in her life, in between raising two young boys and managing a career as dean of Communications, Education, and Fine Art at Iowa Western Community College. She also squeezes in time to occasionally illustrate for publications such as The New York Times.

Painting has taken a backseat in her life right now, but it hasn’t gone away.

“It’s important to me. If I stop painting, this job wouldn’t work for me,” admits Kruger of her position at the college.

It wasn’t always this way. For much of her life, art was everything to her.

Kruger spent her early years in Salt Lake City, with countless hours devoted to drawing pictures in her bedroom.  As the scenery started to change, the constant in her life was art.

Before she reached age 10, she spent a year learning Spanish in Monterey, Mexico, and then sailed the East Coast with her family.

Following a year at sea, her family settled down in Indiana. Kruger pursued art head on, encouraged by her parents, who enrolled her in advanced art classes. She painted in Florence, Italy, while a college student. A Fulbright scholarship sent her to Barcelona, where she could paint nonstop.

A favorite artist growing up was the American realist Andrew Wyeth, and while you can spot a hint of his realist influence in Kruger’s work, her own traveling has definitely flavored the trajectory and style of her painting.

“I saw many different sceneries, different ways of living, different kinds of people, and different ways of learning,” says Kruger.

While studying for her master’s degree in New York City, she dabbled in portraits, but also began painting images of water towers, adding a floral background. Eventually, she ended up in Nebraska, where her surroundings now inspire her frequently and at strange times, like while driving to work. She’ll see a striking wrapping paper pattern and save it to be her creative muse later.

After her boys are tucked in bed, Kruger is in her basement studio, revisiting her collection of muses and memories, and trying to build enough pieces for her next solo show.

Visit jennykruger.com for more information.

The Play’s the Thing

October 2, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Laci Neal needs several commas to answer the question, “What do you do?”

“I’m a cosplay enthusiast, performer, and historical costumer,” says the artist, actor, burlesque performer, lecturer/presenter, inaugural Miss World Steampunk, and self-described “big nerd.”

Neal’s various ventures come down to one simple fact: “I just love to play dress-up,” she says.

Growing up in the under-350-person town of Kimballton, Iowa, Neal lacked outlets for her burgeoning creativity and often felt stifled.

“I didn’t have many friends,” she says. “I read a lot and stayed up late watching Turner Classic Movies.”

Yearning for more possibility, diversity, and connections with like-minded people, 18-year-old Neal moved to Omaha in 2002 to study theater at Iowa Western Community College—where she says she learned not only the art of theater, but also the art of self-confidence.

“Confidence is huge,” she says. “I think of myself in high school—bullied and never speaking up—and I would never let that fly now.”

Sitting tall, with bright eyes, a kind smile, and a pretty yellow flower tucked behind her ear, Neal explains what drew her to performing.

“Well, I like attention,” she says with a sweet, yet sly, laugh. “But it’s not just that. I had dreams when I was young of being a movie star, but when I started performing theater my perspective on the entire thing changed. I love how all these individuals come together to create one beautiful thing—spending months on a project for just a few moments of being onstage and presenting the work.”

As for burlesque, Neal says that while it takes bravery, it lets her display all aspects of her costumes.

“With a Victorian dress there are layers upon layers upon layers, and how else can I show off all those layers unless I show off all those layers,” she says.

Cosplay, a combination of the words “costume” and “play,” is a performance art typically centered around pop culture characters common in the sci-fi/comic/geek convention culture. Think Star Wars, Doctor Who, Lord of the Rings…it’s all-ages dress-up at venues like O Comic Con and others nationwide.

“I’ve always played dress-up and kind of been in my own little world, but didn’t discover there were others who did it until 2004 while researching a costume,” she says of stumbling onto the cosplay and steampunk communities.

“I’ve always loved the Victorian aesthetic—corsetry, making historical gowns and garments—so it was fun to discover that there are thousands of people who do this, it has a name, and I’m not just weird in liking to wear full Victorian garb every now and then,” she says.

As for her many loves and commas, Neal says, “They all kind of go together.”

“It’s all performance,” she says. “Ways of having some kind of role to play—whether it’s a role in a play or burlesque or a badass superhero. I can be whoever I want, any day of the week.”

LaciNeal1