Tami Smith, RPR, CPE

Tami Smith, RPR, CPE, is NCRA’s current president.

About Tami Smith

Tami Smith, RPR, CPE, is NCRA’s current president.

Dream. Believe. Inspire.

Tammy SmithThe time has come for my last president’s message – talk about time flying by. What will I remember the most about this year? The convention in Philadelphia? The work the Vision for Educational Excellence Task Force has begun? The increase in student enrollment? The revamping of systems and strategies at headquarters? The excitement generated by National Court Reporting and Captioning Week? Those are all wonderful things, but they probably won’t be what stays in my memory the longest. I’ll tell you what will stay in a moment.

As most of you know, my life has undergone dramatic changes in the past year and a half. My first husband, Bear, passed away in January 2012; I sold our home and many of our belongings and purchased a new home closer to where I’ve worked for 23 years. I left the town where I lived for more than 30 years.

Last August, I met Reggie Keenan. We both were just looking for a special friend with whom we could share dinner and companionship. It quickly became apparent that there was much more to our relationship than that, and we were married on April 6 of this year. We are now the proud owners of a detailing business and two Huskies, Jazz and Tazz. Between NCRA duties, being an official reporter, church, our home, business, families, and dogs, I barely have time to get everything done — let alone sleep. But my life is complete in ways I never dreamed would be possible again, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

There have been a lot of challenges in our NCRA family over the years, some good, some not so good: the voicewriting amendments, the implementation of Direct Member Voting, the lack of prospective students that has troubled our schools, the addition of technology-based certificates, such as the Realtime Systems Administrator program for our many savvy members, the economic downturn that hit so many industries including our own, and the re-establishment of NCRA as a steno-only organization through Writing our Future, just to name a few.

We’ve disagreed, debated, laughed, cried, and some have walked away or kissed and made up. But through it all, we’ve all had the same Dream: to see the court reporting profession prosper. We’ve all Believed in that dream. We’ve Inspired each other. And, as I’ve been involved with our strategic planning process over the past year, I look forward to seeing what new things NCRA will tackle through our new strategic plan, Vision 2018. It will take hard work on all of our parts, but we’ve proven that we can work together to accomplish our many goals. Our association is re-energizing itself as evidenced by the positive comments we’ve received.

My NCRA Board service started in 2004, and I know many of you have seen the changes in me physically, professionally, and personally. If you’ve learned nothing else from watching my experiences, remember this: Change is inevitable and trying to keep it from happening is like trying to grab the wind. Keep your minds and your hearts open to new attitudes, new experiences, and new challenges. You might think you can’t do this or that. Well, sometimes the Man Upstairs will decide to test you and all you can do is keep praying and keep moving forward.

It’s my hope that in some small way I’ve helped to make NCRA a little bit better, and if so, I didn’t do it by myself. It couldn’t have happened without all of us sharing the journey. The journey is what I’ve learned to appreciate; that journey seems to be easier for some and more difficult for others, but we all have our own journey we have to travel.

So, my NCRA family, that’s what I’ll remember: the journey. The journey to becoming NCRA President wasn’t always easy. The rewards have been immeasurable, and I’m confident that NCRA will continue as a prosperous association — not because of me or any one of us singularly, but with all of us collectively keeping our minds and hearts open and always, always, always enjoying the journey.

With that, I ask you all to call me by my new name, Tami Keenan, and once more join me in saying that wonderful phrase: Dream, Believe, Inspire.

Tami Smith Keenan, RPR, CPE, is NCRA’s current president.

Promoting the profession

Tami SmithAs court reporters and captioners, we can do one important thing to ensure the future growth and success of our profession, and it is relatively simple: Talk about it. You’ve probably heard me say before that NCRA members’ grassroots efforts to talk about what they do for a living is, in my opinion, one of the most effective ways for us to attract fresh talent to the profession.

In this vein of promoting stenographic court reporting to both the public at large and the communities that use our services, I’d like to share with you two of the many initiatives happening at NCRA to spread the word about the profession. Both of these strategies, combined with members’ own grassroots promotional efforts, are already having a significant impact and are showing promise to be even more effective long into the future.

First, I’d like to talk to you about NCRA’s Strategic Alliances Task Force. As I’m sure you can imagine, there are countless associations and organizations that represent the consumers of our services — everything from legal associations representing lawyers, paralegals, court administrators, and others to organizations representing the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities. These captive audiences offer us a targeted way to promote stenographic court reporting, which is why the Strategic Alliances Task Force was formed. This group of NCRA volunteers evaluates these types of organizations and looks for ways to partner with them. Sometimes we attend relevant conventions, and sometimes we offer to contribute articles or presentations if they’re in need of content. The goal of all of this interaction is to let these associations and organizations know that court reporters and captioners bring value to the table.

I’d also like to share with you a relatively new initiative at NCRA regarding our public outreach strategy. Public relations can be effective beyond measure for supplementing paid marketing efforts. Since NCRA doesn’t have a limitless budget for paid advertising, it’s essential for us to spread the word about our association and our profession through more cost-effective channels. Successful public relations efforts result in articles, radio spots, blogs, and television mentions in the editorial — and thus, free of charge — realm.

Thanks to a new public relations initiative at NCRA, we will be more active than ever before when it comes to communicating to the media our activities and contributions to society. Not only will we engage with media across the country for big campaigns such as the upcoming National Court Reporting and Captioning Week (for more information, see NCRA.org/awareness), but we’re also making noise about individual members’ accomplishments as well. Thanks to a new partnership with a Washington, D.C.-area public relations firm to help us distribute releases across the country, we are now able to issue a press release every time a member participates in the Veterans History Project and every time a member receives a RPR certification. That’s right — if you earn your RPR, NCRA will issue a press release on your behalf to the media in your geographical area. There’s no better way to spread the word about court reporters and captioners than to celebrate their successes.

As the strategy evolves, NCRA’s dedicated communications team will expand the press release program to include all of NCRA’s certifications and significant milestones and anniversaries of NCRA members. One small TV announcement or newspaper blurb at a time, members of the public will stop and think, “Hmmm… court reporters. I wonder if that would be a good option for my daughter/sister/cousin/me?” And that, my friends, can be more powerful than any amount of paid advertising.

If you receive an email from the public relations and communications team at NCRA, I encourage you to respond with the simple information they will need to issue a press release on your behalf. In celebrating your accomplishments, we celebrate the profession as a whole. That’s truly believing, dreaming, and inspiring.

Making an invaluable difference

Tami SmithWatch just one news report and see how many stats and figures you hear on a variety of topics, i.e., percent- ages of overweight children, economic issues, and how many celebrities are getting divorced. Here’s a real statistic that should touch all of us: Violent incidents in court- houses happen at the rate of one per month.

When you stop and think about it, it’s staggering and quite alarming that our colleagues and John Q. Public are at a risk for harm on a daily basis. NCRA has put a lot of effort into seeing the Local Courthouse Safety Act move closer to becoming a law.

SAFETY MATTERS

The Local Courthouse Safety Act proposes that we allocate already-existing grants from the Department of Justice to train security officers and other courthouse personnel to deter and react to potentially dangerous attacks. It would also allow local courthouses across the country to request from the Department of Justice some of the millions of dollars’ worth of unused security equipment it has — metal detectors, baggage screeners, and handheld wands — and the DOJ has grant money set aside to train security personnel how to use it.

For many reasons, this legislation is a no brainer. The Congressional Budget Office has indicated that this proposal is “budget neutral,” meaning that there’s no hefty price tag that accompanies the plan. With NCRA’s active involvement in the Local Courthouse Safety Act, we’re simply proposing that some of these resources be dedicated to the safety of courthouse employees and citizens who gather in these public institutions.

Luckily, safety, for the most part, is a nonpartisan issue. Though a few elected officials are not in favor of these types of proposals for purely philosophical reasons (mainly to tamp down “big government” proposals and leave decisions such as these in the hands of state officials), we are fortunate that with some significant co-sponsors and the active involvement of NCRA, we have seen the Local Courthouse Safety Act gain some traction.

THE PROCESS

The Local Courthouse Safety Act (S. 2076) was introduced by Senator Al Franken of Minnesota with Senator John Boozman of Arkansas signing on as the lead cosponsor. NCRA has been vocal in thanking these senators for their role in kicking off the proposal. In May, the Act passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee with bipartisan support. This means that it is now headed to the floor of the Senate, once the group reconvenes after its fall recess.

On the House side, NCRA’s Government Relations team lobbied hard to promote the introduction of a companion bill. NCRA brought the legislation to the attention of Lamar Smith of Texas who chairs the House Judiciary Committee. With Rep. Smith’s support, legislators from both sides of the aisle signed on as cosponsors, including Rep. Sandy Adams of Florida, who introduced the bill to the House in July. The bill passed out of the House of Representatives in September without opposition.

The Local Courthouse Safety Act remains in the hands of the Senate, and our Government Relations team is working hard on our behalf to do whatever we can to get the proposal passed out of the Senate. Once that happens, the Act would then, of course, be presented to the president to be signed into law. Stay tuned to NCRA’s website and publications to track the Local Courthouse Safety Act as it progresses.

THE VOICE OF NCRA

The Local Courthouse Safety Act is just one of many examples of how the collective voice of NCRA can make a difference in each of our individual lives. When we pay our membership dues each year, unlike a cell phone bill or a grocery receipt, we don’t receive a statement that lists “Your income increased X percent because of your new certification” or “the value of the education you received at Annual Convention was worth $X,XXX” or even a little note that points out that, thanks in part to the efforts of our Government Relations team, stenographic court reporting was not eliminated in a certain jurisdiction or state.

But in the case of the Local Courthouse Safety Act, with all of the hard work we have done as an association to facilitate the passing of this proposal into law (fingers crossed!), I think we can all agree that the eventual result could prove to be invaluable. How many years of membership dues would you pay to save a life or prevent serious injury to just one colleague — or anyone for that matter? Collectively, we may be able to make a significant impact on the stats and figures concerning courthouse safety, and that would be a number worth noting.

Nothing stays the same

Tami SmithA dear friend of mine often tells me that nothing stays the same. She’s so right. Circumstances change and life changes. Sometimes it seems like it would be nice if everything did stay the same; we’d go to work in the same place, our friends wouldn’t relocate, families would remain intact, and life would be routine.

But who wants that? Do you want to be in a rut day after day after day? I don’t. Yes, challenges are hard to handle. Stepping outside of your comfort zone is scary, but if you don’t step outside that zone, you’re destined to become stagnant — and worse than that — boring!

This year NCRA is focusing its efforts on recruiting more students into the profession. In order to do this, there are a number of things we should do — and one thing we must do, which is to take our pride in our profession to the streets. Aren’t you tired of always having to use your fingers to mimic writing on the machine and say, “Yes, I’m the person in the courtroom using that funny little machine”? It’s long past time that everyone knows what a court reporter is, and it’s up to all of us to deliver that message. We’re going to give you the tools to deliver that message, and that message can go to your local newspapers or television or radio stations, your local school system or colleges, a local military base, your favorite forum or social media site — anywhere there’s an audience for that message.

While we’re all working on educating the general public about court reporting, it’s up to all of us to encourage the students in our training programs to dream about being court reporters, believing they can become court reporters, and inspiring them to persevere. We must work together to make NCRA a place where students and nonmembers want to join to become a part of our great association.

At a preconvention board meeting, the NCRA Board of Directors had a long discussion about the future of the stenographic court reporting profession. The Board decided that, over the next three to five years, NCRA must hyper-focus on an effort to recruit more qualified students into court reporting programs as well as to produce more court reporters from those programs. As part of this initiative, the Board agreed to mobilize a special task force to look at court reporting education from all angles to determine what can be done as a community and as a profession to do something dramatic such as triple the number of students in court reporting programs across the nation over the next five years. On the table for discussion will be just about anything that, as a community, will allow us to work together toward such a highly ambitious goal. This will not be a repeat of the Reporter Education Commission from 2005, but rather it will be an innovative approach to increasing the number of students entering reporting school and their graduation rates to keep NCRA vibrant, growing, and relevant to our members.

Our keynote speaker in Philadelphia, Dan Clark, shared some thoughts on dreaming, believing, and inspiring. One of my favorite quotations from his presentation was this: “The law of attraction is real. Likes attract likes. If you don’t like what’s real, change what’s attracting it.” No longer can we remain a routine, humdrum organization that offers certification via analog audio recording, continuing education only through in-person seminars, or a static website. We must remain flexible, adaptable, and inventive. We need to be an association that reporters want to belong to, not feel they have to belong to.

Online testing is well under way, which allows NCRA to deliver preliminary results to candidates within hours of completing an exam. Yes, there have been some adjustments that need to be made to the system along the way, but we are working on making those adjustments. We’re developing new, convenient, and creative ways to earn Continuing Education Units (CEUs). Our website is continually being updated to provide you with customized information about your profession. Are you taking advantage of all that NCRA has to offer you to keep yourself current? Are you willing to step outside of your comfort zone and hop on our grassroots realtime training program known as TRAIN? Are you willing to be proud of your profession, become a StenAdvocate, and tell the world what it is you do?

Seasons change, people change, circumstances change, life changes. NCRA can change and still remain a steno-centric organization. Don’t be afraid of change; nothing stays the same. That doesn’t mean change can’t be wonderful and exciting. Dream, believe, inspire.