Tag Archives: University of Nebraska-Omaha

Wrapping Up Senior Year

April 13, 2014 by

Senior year, can you believe it? All of this hard work is finally paying off, and we can see the victory sign ahead. But no one can prepare us for what we will actually have to go through to put our dreams into reality. So let’s just focus on this last semester and finishing out strong.

This last semester is a waiting game. Everyone gets excited to see who will get some money out of the giant money pot of scholarships.

Me, personally, I’m terrified.

What if I didn’t say the right things in my essay or what if I forgot a reference letter? Trust me, everything that could possibly go wrong is spinning in my head. I’m trying to just worry about my goals—get some scholarships and stay on track with my grades—and look forward to a few possible experiences this last semester.

I’m already thinking about summer as well. I plan on getting an internship as a messenger at a local paper. Just getting your foot in the door and making yourself known can spark so many different opportunities and adventures. Also, this is the last summer before we start college. It’s when we really start feeling like, wow, I did it. I would like to make this summer as memorable as possible, even with a little work at my part-time job every so often.

During the summer, we try not to worry about the overall picture. I’m already thinking of all the dreams that I have for college and all my expectations. I hope to live in the dorms at University of Nebraska-Omaha and study journalism, along with being involved in clubs and activities.

I do have one fear.

I’m scared that on the first day, I’ll wake up late, and then there will be nowhere to park, and I won’t be able to find my class, and I’ll live the rest of my college career thinking about that one embarrassing moment. Oh, yeah, and spilling coffee on the cute guy in class.
Things happen.

But really, graduation is a big moment for me and many of my peers. I can’t wait to see what the future will bring.

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Code Crush

March 5, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Mornings spent building mobile applications. Afternoons brushing elbows with corporate leaders. Getting a behind-the-scenes look at the role technology plays in places like the Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo. This isn’t your typical summer camp, and not just because it’s happening during the school year.

More than 70 girls from three states and 34 schools applied for the chance to join Code Crush for the last weekend of March. University of Nebraska-Omaha’s College of Information Science and Technology faculty and staff geared the five-day event to cultivate an interest with information technology among 8th and 9th grade girls.

The girls spent four days and five nights exploring the many faces of information technology through hands-on workshops, field trips, and panels. The middle-school students also got their first taste of college life thanks to staying on the UNO campus. Meanwhile, event organizers hoped the inaugural Code Crush would help debunk some myths surrounding the IT profession.

Code Crush is part of a larger effort by UNO to attract more participation from underrepresented groups in IT—particularly women. Hesham H. Ali, Ph.D., professor and dean in the College of Information Science and Technology, says that women make up only 12-13 percent of IS&T students. He says numbers are slightly higher at the graduate level thanks to a boost from international enrolees.

Researchers at UNO are working with community groups, schools, and the National Science Foundation to figure out the cause of this considerable gender gap. Ali attributes misconceptions about IT careers as a major factor. “Still there is that image of IT professionals working alone in a dark room writing code,” he says. “People think there’s no interaction or opportunity to make a social impact. Really it’s a lot more than just writing code alone. If we can just get that information out, it might have an impact on changing the image.”

“IT has a great potential to impact society,” adds Deepak Khazanchi, associate dean and professor in the College of Information Science and Technology. “It already has. If you look at the internet, ATMs, even computers in cars—it’s pervasive.” But, Khazanchi says people don’t realize how much technology is a part of everyday life and that by working in the field, they can in fact make a significant difference.

That sentiment is exactly what drew Westside Middle School 8th-grader Ketevan Mdzinarishvili to Code Crush. Computers, she explains, help people to shape a better understanding of the world around them. “The complexity of every microchip shows…there are many possibilities in this world. And I want to explore all of the ones which I am able. Any chance I have to learn about a new career field I would like to take,” Mdzinarishvili says.

Mdzinarishvili, like all the Code Crush students, was accompanied by a teacher who wrote a letter of recommendation for her during the application process. The event was completely free to students. Mentors received a stipend to attend, thanks to funding from industry partners, and attended some sessions with their students. Sessions even included a bioinformatics exercise where students extracted DNA from strawberries while their teachers learned how to incorporate new activities into their curriculums.

“Part of the myth has to be resolved at the teacher’s level,” Ali says. “They are the ones connecting students, so talking to counselors, teachers, advisors is really important.”

Secondary Coordinator of Excellence in Youth programs at Westside Middle School Kristen Job, who is Mdzinarishvili’s mentor, says she’s excited about the opportunity for not only her student but also for herself. “I’ve always wanted to learn how to program and code,” she says. Computer programming isn’t offered at the middle school level, so it’s a chance for both of them to learn a new skill that can be shared when they return to school.

Such real world examples are important for encouraging other women to explore IT careers, according to Kate Dempsey, Research Associate in the School of Interdisciplinary Informatics at UNO.

Dempsey works in the field of bioinformatics, which she describes as a combination of biology, math, coding, and computer science, with a little bit of physics and theoretical science thrown in the mix. Dempsey talked to the girls about her work but also about all of the great female scientists that came before her.

“It’s so important to me to get the word out that there are amazing female scientists out there,” she says. “They’re just not as well known. The more that you learn about these important women in IT and sciences, it kind of drives you to say, ‘Well I can do it, too.’”

The women who do end up enrolling in UNO’s College of Information Science and Technology tend to excel, Ali says. In fact, the top student for the past several years has been a woman. But misconceptions about IT careers can stop some women from pursuing that course of education before they even get to the door.

“Research has shown that diversified groups are more productive and more creative, particularly in IT,” Ali says. “We need to have teams that come from different ideas and backgrounds so they can contribute in a more productive and creative way.”

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Perpetual Motion

March 2, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Jorge Ambriz has been moving his whole life—as a dancer, that is. The 36-year-old HR Manager of Omaha Steel Castings trained as a child in Mexican folkloric dance. No matter where he has lived, he always found a dance company so he could keep in motion. For the past seven years it’s been with University of Nebraska-Omaha’s The Moving Company, perhaps the area’s leading practitioners of 20th-century and contemporary dance.

But Ambriz isn’t affiliated with the university. A common misperception is that The Moving Company is for students only. The troupe, which was established in 1935 and is one of the oldest university dance companies in continuous existence in the world, draws people of all ages from all walks of life. “People usually think it’s for UNO,” remarks Ambriz. “That’s not the case. Out of 30-plus members, less than 10 are probably students.”

The company’s director, Josie Metal-Corbin, elaborates, “We are not a student organization. UNL has a dance major, UNK a dance minor. But what we have is a dance company. We are under the auspices of the College of Education and the School of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation. We’re very grateful that the College values what we do. We’ve been in existence off the blood, sweat, and tears of a lot of people.”

Dancers range in age from 18-50, and all members audition for a limited number of spaces. While some dancers are professional and maintain their own studios, others have included an ornithologist from the Henry Doorly Zoo and a CEO of a cement company. “The Moving Company welcomes all backgrounds of dance,” Ambriz explains. “It’s very diverse and has all ethnicities, all ages, and all levels of dance.”

Even though the company is dedicated to modern dance, choreographers incorporate other styles, such as swing and salsa. “One of the beautiful things about The Moving Company,” Ambriz says, “is that it opens the door to different dance.”

Performances take place at UNO, but the troupe also does site-specific choreography through its community outreach and partners with numerous area organizations. Over the years, performances have taken place at such venues as the Omaha Community Playhouse, the Durham Museum, Harrah’s Casino, area high schools, St. Cecilia’s Cathedral, and even in the Joslyn Art Museum’s fountain court. “We love to collaborate and do partnerships,” remarks Metal-Corbin. “It’s very fulfilling. Dancers move out into the world and
people interact.”

This spring The Moving Company will notably take to the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge to celebrate National Water Dance Day. “The movements deal with water,” says Metal-Corbin. “Our theme is drought, and we will move across 3,000 feet [of the bridge] with musicians and dancers.”

For Ambriz, these kinds of experiences are enriching. “The Moving Company,” he says, “allows us to use our full potential.”

Multiply by 50

December 29, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Opportunity leads to success. Success opens the door for even greater opportunity. Such is the cycle of the American dream. But many youths across the Heartland face more adversity than opportunity. Poverty, suffering, and staggering obstacles are their reality.

“Coming from an immigrant family, my parents only studied up to sixth grade in Mexico,” says Oliver Ramirez-Gutiérrez, a freshman at the University of Nebraska-Omaha with a dual major in biology and foreign language. “My dad works in a meat-packing plant, and my mom cleans houses. We don’t have the finances for my parents to pay for me to go to college. Even though there are obstacles in the way, you just overcome them because you don’t really have an option of failing.”

As a 2013 Ak-Sar-Ben scholarship recipient, Gutiérrez’s options just expanded in a big way. He was one of 50 winners of $6,000 college scholarships presented at the recent Ak-Sar-Ben Coronation & Scholarship Ball.

Gutiérrez says the scholarship opens a whole new world for him. “There are endless possibilities that you can do once you have your college paid,” he says. “That money is basically my future. If I hadn’t received it, I don’t know where I would have gone.”

Founded in 1895 as a harvest celebration, the Coronation & Scholarship Ball honors the volunteer efforts of families throughout the Heartland by selecting their children as members of the royal court. A civic-minded business leader of the region serves as king and the queen is honored for the civic contributions of her family.

“The ball is a party with a purpose, that being each individual scholar and how we can help each individual succeed,” says Jane Miller, chairman of the Knights of Ak-Sar-Ben Board of Directors.

Ak-Sar-Ben partners with the Horatio Alger Association offering Ak-Sar-Ben scholars access to matching scholarship funds from colleges and universities across the country, including many local institutions. “I’m just really proud,” Gutiérrez continues, “that the people at Ak-Sar-Ben were able to see the potential in me to become something great and to one day give back.”

Now take Gutiérrez’s potential and multiply that by 50.

 

Sammy Sunshyne

June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The most surreal event of Sammy Sunshyne’s life happened last year, at the Electric Forest Festival in Rothbury, Mich.

“It was the biggest show of the festival,” recalls the Omaha acrobat, “and I got to go inside of a giant inflatable bubble and crowd surf.” The plastic ball made for a rough ride with such a big crowd (she estimates there were 50,000 people), but it was probably the most awe-inspiring thing she’s ever done. “It was only six minutes, but it was the best six minutes of my life. I ran back and hugged my friend, and she spun me around because it was the most beautiful thing.”

Just two years before in 2010, Sammy (Samantha Mixan) had attended a different music festival that introduced her to hoop dancing. “Hula hooping was where it all started for me.” Today, she’s a professional acrobatics performer with shows in Downtown Omaha clubs, at festivals and concerts all over the United States, and at international events. Though she will graduate in December with a degree in psychology from University of Nebraska-Omaha, it’s her performing career that has captured her focus.20130503_bs_3087_Web

While Sammy’s current proficiency is in hooping and fire dancing, she’s training in contortion as well. “It’s all about increasing my flexibility, mobility, arm strength,” she says. “I’m working on a contortion act with fire for this year.”

She’s debuting the act on her summer tour with Quixotic Performing Arts Ensemble, the same troupe she performed with at last year’s Electric Forest Festival. Except for a couple weeks off here and there, she’s traveling with them as a fire dancer for most of May through August.

“It’s been an amazing opportunity to work with a group on their level of performance,” Sammy says. “They’ve been so inspiring, and they’ve taught me a lot about performance. They’ve taken me to the best places I’ve performed, the biggest places. It’s a huge part of my career.”

When Quixotic contacted her to work as a performer, “it was a dream come into motion for me.” Sammy gives the credit for that connection to the tightly knit community of acrobats in the Midwest. “It’s small and interconnected and people know people. That’s how most opportunities present themselves, through people you know.”

“I’m trying to push the art aspect of performance. I want to make it into a work of art that you refine to be something impactful and beautiful as opposed to the sexy entertainment aspect.”

Attempts to train alone are things of the past since she injured herself trying for more complexity on a tour in India in 2010. “There’s a subtle strength that’s needed to control the body in those really intense poses,” she says. Sammy now travels to Kansas City frequently to train at Quixotic Performing Arts, perfecting the lessons at home in Omaha. She practices yoga, takes ballet, and is what she calls a six-day-a-week vegetarian. It also helps that she has access to a great training facility locally, thanks to her position as a tumbling instructor at Elite Cheer. When she can, Sammy trains with circus performers she knows from Montreal and San Francisco, such as Haley Rose Viloria.

In Omaha, she attends hoop jams, little get-togethers of amateur and professional performers around town, such as Circle of Fire at McFoster’s Natural Kind Cafe and a group at Elmwood Park. “We get together to show off our skills, and there’s usually a drum circle.”

Professionally, Sammy’s performed at Sokol Auditorium electronic dance music (EDM) parties. “They have their own show going on, and I’m a bit part of that.” She worked at the Mayan New Year’s Eve at House of Loom and last year’s Omaha Fashion Week after-party at the Burlington. Sometimes, you can catch her work at clubs like Red9 in Lincoln and Halo and Rehab in Omaha. She’s also performed at the Bourbon Theater in Lincoln, both with Quixotic and her fire-dancing partner, Ken Hill.Maybe-_Web

“She’s amazing,” Hill says emphatically. “I’ve seen her since the beginning up to this point, and it’s been awesome to see.”

She makes all her own hoops (out of polypropylene) except for her fire props, which are custom-made. Sammy dips the fire-resistant Kevlar spokes into a white gas fuel before performing. “You shake off the excess fuel, and then you light them,” Sammy explains. “It burns the gas, not the Kevlar. So when the gas runs out, your fire prop goes out.”

Little scars run up her hands and arms from fire spinning. “I don’t get burned every time, but it’s just something that comes with it. Obviously the more proficient you are, the less likely you are to get burned.” Sammy uses safety precautions such as putting up her hair, wearing lip balm when she’s fire eating, and perhaps squirting a water bottle on her hair and clothes. And when she gets burned during a performance, she doesn’t give it away. “Sometimes, you don’t even notice them until later.”

Sammy estimates she performs about twice a month in the off-summer months. “The community’s really growing,” she says. “It’s slowly getting bigger. More people are getting interested in it.” She feels two urges: to experience the performance scene in cities like Oakland, Seattle, Portland, and New York City, but also to bring that scene to the Midwest. “Event planners are only now realizing performers could add so much to their shows, so they’re just now starting to hire them. They add so much atmosphere.”20130503_bs_3073_Web

Sammy’s signature performance style is breezy and fun. Constantly smiling, she never makes poses look taxing or difficult; hence her stage name given to her by a friend. “There’s no possible way I could do this without a support system helping me,” she says. “I wouldn’t have these opportunities if I didn’t have the connections. You have to go out there and meet people who can make your dreams happen.”

While pursuing her dream on tour this summer, Sammy’s put a lot of thought into instilling her performances with a message. “I’m trying to push the art aspect of performance,” she says. “I want to make it into a work of art that you refine to be something impactful and beautiful as opposed to the sexy entertainment aspect.”

For her summer tour, she’s created a backstory for her fire-spinning piece. “So I’m a lost girl looking out over the audience, with my one light,” Sammy explains, “and she’s looking and searching, not knowing where she is. Then she becomes possessed by this inner being, this other side explodes through her personality. She’s confident and doing things that don’t seem possible for humans to do.”

Hangar One’s Fly Boy

May 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

At the ripe old age of 23, Tyler Klingemann, flight instructor at Hangar One, has been flying for seven years. “I began at 16,” he says, “which is the FAA’s minimum age that a pilot is allowed to fly solo.”

The dream took hold much earlier than that though. The night before a family vacation to Disney World, 8-year-old Klingemann couldn’t stop thinking about a Travel Channel episode he’d seen. “The host jokingly stated that all passengers in the back were fed dirt and worms while first-class passengers were wined and dined,” he says. He stayed awake, dreading his first flight ever. The story does end happily; after the trip, it wasn’t Disney World he told his friends all about, but rather the airplane.20130204_bs_4933_Web

“Ever since that moment, I saved every dime I earned,” Klingemann says, “whether it was babysitting, mowing lawns, or working at the local bagel shop to earn enough money to pay for flight lessons.”

His diligence paid off as a junior in high school with his private pilot’s license and again in May 2012 with a degree in professional flight from University of Nebraska–Omaha. Klingemann has his ratings in instrument, commercial, and multi-engine, as well as his flight instructor’s certificate.20130204_bs_4954_Webw

He began working at Hangar One five years ago as a line-service technician, towing, fueling, and cleaning aircraft. He’s since moved on to certified flight instructor, educating students in UNO’s aviation program, instructing business owners in expanding their companies’ outreach, and just sharing his love of flying with anyone who wants to learn. “If you love what you do, you never have to work a day in your life!” Klingemann says. The best feeling, he adds, is seeing a student land an airplane solo for the first time.

He has no problem with the 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week availability to his students, and he doesn’t mind the very late hours of nighttime training. But there is one aspect of flight instruction that Klingemann doesn’t embrace with enthusiasm. “I don’t like others getting sick,” he says. When the occasional passenger gets struck with motion sickness, Klingemann lets them control the plane, opens the air vents, and lands as soon as possible. “Knock on wood, I haven’t had someone throw up yet!”20130204_bs_4981_Web

Though flying is the job that is also a hobby for Klingemann, the bachelor manages to get away from the Millard Airport to hang out with friends or volunteer at Big Brothers Big Sisters. But he’s never away from flying for long; his two other jobs consist of instructing jumpers at Skydive Crete and training students in UNO’s aircraft simulator. “Any time I fly, I’m happy,” he says. “Seeing the city lights and circling downtown at night is one of my favorite things to do.”

It’s Hockey Time in Omaha!

December 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann and Jeff Beiermann

Omaha may not appear to be a hockey town to the casual observer, but you don’t have to peel back the layers too far to find evidence of such.

The University of Nebraska-Omaha and Omaha Lancers, who carry the hockey banner in Omaha, have consistently played quality hockey with the Mavericks making two trips to the NCAA Tournament in their 15 years of competition, while the Lancers have accumulated more United States Hockey League Championships (13) than any other USHL teams since they joined the league in 1986.

And fan support has and continues to be second to none.

UNO Mavericks

The University of Nebraska-Omaha Maverick hockey team.

“Omaha is a good hockey town,” UNO Mavericks head coach Dean Blais says. “We’re near the top of the country in terms of attendance on a yearly basis. The support from the fans is huge and their commitment is extremely important to our program.”

Mike Aiken, Lancers head coach and general manager, adds, “Omaha has always had a strong hockey following, and it’s only getting better. There’s great development within the youth league and with the new arenas providing additional ice time that will only increase.”

This winter Omaha hockey will get another boost as an unique event will be held at TD Ameritrade Park. The Mutual of Omaha Battles on Ice February 9 will feature a doubleheader as both Omaha squads entertain two of their fiercest rivals. The Mavericks take on the North Dakota Fighting Sioux while the Lancers face the Lincoln Stars.

“This area turns out some good kids with the strong youth hockey program, and I think that development will grow with the addition of hockey facilities in the city.” – Dean Blais, head coach of UNO Mavericks hockey team

“The concept came from the Omaha Lancers and the doubleheader gave us the best chance of having a successful event such as this,” comments Harold Cliff, the President of the Omaha Sports Commission. “We wanted meaningful games and to provide something different at another one of the great Omaha venues. Omaha is a great sports community. These teams have competed well in the past and this is another opportunity to display their talents. With the doubleheader we’ll also be able to provide two different types of hockey and expect strong attendance. It may not be something we can do annually, but we’ll measure the response and this could grow. A lot depends on support. Sponsors also play a large part, and Mutual of Omaha stepped up in a big way for this year. Local hockey interest remains strong, and we are confident this will be a successful event.”

Omaha Lancers practice at Ralston Arena.

Omaha Lancers practice at Ralston Arena.

Blais and Aiken echo Cliff’s excitement for this upcoming event and believe it’s a great opportunity to showcase their teams.

“It will be an awesome event,” Aiken says. “With us playing Lincoln, which is one of the best rivalries in the league, it should be a great experience for the players and fans alike.”

It’s undoubtedly an exciting time for hockey in Omaha as this season the Lancers began play in the brand-new Ralston Arena.

“We’ve moved into an unbelievable building, and we feel fortunate to have such a facility,” says Aiken. “Our facilities are second to none and give us the opportunity to recruit the best players out there. We’re more than hockey, it’s an entertainment package. A fan friendly atmosphere with great hockey, which people can really enjoy. We get involved with the community quite a bit, and we plan to continue to promote our organization through the good people who are a part of it.”

UNO will also be changing home ice in the future after announcing plans in late 2012 to build an on-campus arena to host indoor Maverick athletics including hockey.

UNO Mavericks play Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs in November.

UNO Mavericks play Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs in November 2012.

“This area turns out some good kids with the strong youth hockey program, and I think that development will grow with the addition of hockey facilities in the city,” Blais explains. “More kids will be able to get ice time, which will be great for the future. Our future goals include winning a national championship. As we move into a very good conference (WCHA), it will help with recruiting. We like the state of our program and what we think we’ll be able to accomplish in the future.”

That future looks bright, for all those involved and interested in Omaha hockey, thanks to the commitment from the organizations, community, and fans alike.

Todd Schmaderer

October 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

For a man who never thought he’d be a police officer, Todd Schmaderer’s career in law enforcement certainly has seen a meteoric rise. Omaha’s once interim police chief was selected from four applicants for the Chief of Police position this past August. As the new commander, he leads a force of 796 sworn officers and just over 1,000 employees total, oversees a budget of $119 million, and is responsible for the safety of the citizens living in the city’s 114 square miles.

It is a job he performs with pride. Chief Schmaderer is Omaha born and bred. A 1990 graduate of Roncalli Catholic High School, he attended Wayne State College in northeast Nebraska on a football scholarship his freshman year. He then transferred to the University of Nebraska-Omaha to prepare for a potential career in business. But while at UNO, he shifted academic gears and sought a degree in criminal justice with the original intention of pursuing the enforcement side of the IRS.

However, the allure of immediate job placement upon graduation was too enticing to pass up, and Schmaderer joined the Omaha Police Department. That was 18 years ago. Today, the man who once “walked the beat” is reaching out to community groups, other law enforcement agencies, and social services to build on the police department’s commitment to service.

One of his top priorities is a reduction in violent crime. Schmaderer seeks to emulate metro areas that have successfully addressed this pressing issue: “Police tactics need to be reflective of practices that work with other cities with similar problems.” But, he continues, Omaha’s solution cannot be an exact replica of Cincinnati’s or Boston’s approach, either; “We must tweak it to fit Omaha’s unique situation.”

He also believes that establishing a solid community-policing program will help address crime. Gone are the days of “an officer on every corner,” Schmaderer acknowledges. Social media, such as the police department’s Facebook page, can be instrumental in the exchange of information between the police and the community.

“It’s a large city and large engine, and we need to break it down into its parts to create a working plan.”

Communication with the city’s various neighborhood associations will also help Omaha police streamline its approach to crime prevention by allowing police to tailor its presence to a neighborhood’s particular need. Graffiti might be a primary concern for one neighborhood, whereas car break-ins might be uppermost on another area’s mind. Community groups are stakeholders in the problem, he asserts, and can play an integral role in crime reduction by identifying ways the police can serve them.

“It’s a large city and large engine, and we need to break it down into its parts to create a working plan,” asserts Schmaderer.

Reducing crime is also a shared responsibility with other city departments, law enforcement agencies, and nonprofit and civic social service agencies. Poverty and lack of employment are two of the root causes of crime, he firmly maintains. Social services can play a significant role in crime prevention by intervening in potential offenders’ lives before they turn to crime as “a fix” for their problems.

Schmaderer takes the helm of the police department at a time when Omaha is experiencing great growth. He believes that “long-term planning is so important to keep up with this growth” so that expansion of the police department is commensurate with city expansion. He plans to increase staffing in the department’s gang and homicide units. He also will augment personnel in the cold case squad, an indication of his commitment to “never forgetting the victim.”

As Chief, Schmaderer may not have time to teach criminal justice classes at Bellevue University as he has done since 2010. Nor will he be able to coach his two children’s athletic teams. But he will continue to etch out opportunities to go for a run, spend time with his children, and enjoy free moments with his girlfriend, a sergeant with Omaha’s police force and whom Schmaderer describes as “my best friend and strongest supporter.”

Time-consuming and complex as his job is, this is where he wants to be. “At the end of the day, I am glad if I made a difference in the community and the people who work with me.”