Students helping students

NCRA Member Callie Sajdera

By Callie Sajdera

We have all ridden the emotional rollercoaster of court reporting school. We all experience highs and lows and share the frustration of trying to explain our unique type of schooling with people outside of the program. I too have fallen victim to these frustrations.

As students, being assigned a mentor comes with many difficulties.  What if there are not enough mentors to go around or the relationships don’t work out the way you expect? Last spring, a fellow classmate of mine, Emily Hutcheson, brought to the attention of our director, Jennifer Sati, RMR, CRR, CRC, CRI, that she felt overwhelmed when she got assigned a mentor at 120 wpm. She felt intimidated having a mentor so early in the program, and as a result, she never contacted or reached out to her mentor. Due to her intimidation, Hutcheson came up with the program Students Helping Students. This is a new program that Anoka Tech has started where higher-speed students (160+) mentor theory and lower-speed students.

I was assigned a mentor, Anne Bowline, RMR, CRR, later in the program at 200 wpm, and she has set an amazing example for me as I am a mentor to a lower-speed student. I received my mentee, Dina Kunin, when she was in her second semester of theory. This program has allowed me to share the tips, tricks, and mistakes that I have experienced throughout the program that have gotten me this far. It also allows me to hear and understand the struggles of another student and be there for her when she is excited or when she needs advice. I keep in touch with Dina every two to three weeks, or whenever she needs a listening ear. Not only has a strong friendship developed because of this program, but she is just as much there for me as I am there for her.

There are many reasons why this program is extraordinary. First of all, it helps build friendships and support systems with other students while riding that emotional rollercoaster. Secondly, it is preparing higher-speed students to be mentors when they enter the field, and they know what to expect in a mentor-mentee relationship. Finally, it creates a never-ending chain of mentors for the future of this career, ensuring that there will not be a shortage of them.

Being a mentor to a student has really brought me a sense of satisfaction and gratification as I travel through the program, and I have encouraged and supported other students as they make their way to the magic number: 225. Having schools adopt a mentorship program like Students Helping Students can be a small, powerful step to creating more mentors.

NCRA Member Callie Sajdera is court reporting student at Anoka Technical College, Anoka, Minn.

Q&A with Gabriella Agnello: Getting – and giving – advice

“If I were to go to a high school career fair to recruit students, I would tell them that this field has a lot of potential and growth for young people like themselves. You can work as an independent contractor; you can work for any one of the courts; and you can work in captioning. There is so much diversity in court reporting which allows each person to find their own direction that suits them.”

In this issue of Up-to-Speed, we shine the spotlight on Gabriella Agnello, who is a recent graduate of Plaza College in Forest Hills, NY. She now works as a freelancer.

UTS | How did you first get the idea of being a court reporter? 

Agnello | When I was a senior in high school, I had not a clue what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted something fast, something I can excel in, and, of course, what everybody else wants, good pay. At 17 years old, not everyone knows exactly what they want to do. Unfortunately, I was one of those people. All of my friends had these big plans – one wanted to become a teacher, another an accountant — and I was very confused on my future. Two women I had been going to the gym with were freelance court reporters, and they really opened up my mind to considering this field. I did a little research on stenography and wished I had gone in sooner. It really is an amazing field with plenty of opportunity.

UTS | Can you talk a little about your background?  

Agnello | I have always been interested since my senior year of high school in the court reporting profession, but I didn’t pursue it right out of high school. Three of my friends are court reporters, so I’ve always had an interest in the field. They always said such great things about their jobs, always spoke about how much they loved it and the financial perks, of course. Straight out of high school, I decided to go with my second interest, which was math. I graduated Baruch College with a bachelor’s degree, but I was not satisfied or happy with my decision. I then decided to look up court reporting programs, and fortunately stumbled upon this one! The rest is history.

UTS | What skill sets do you think would be helpful for a court reporter to possess? 

Agnello | I definitely think literary skills are very helpful for a court reporter to possess. When I first started this school, I had not taken an English class for quite some time. I forgot the basic rules of punctuation, grammar, etc. As a skilled court reporter, you need to be able to produce an accurate transcript.

UTS | What kinds of challenges have you faced during your court reporting program? 

Agnello | The challenges I have faced during my court reporting program would have to be the struggle with speed. Some weeks I felt that I maintained my new speed and was able to progress very quickly to an even faster speed. Other weeks, I found myself stuck or stagnant at one speed, and it became very frustrating. I also am a very nervous person, so test-taking is not my specialty. I would be able to write cleaner during class, but then when the test came, I did very poorly. Confidence and practice are keys to going through the court reporting program.

UTS | Did a mentor help you out while in school?

Agnello | Truthfully, all of my teachers have been my mentors in school. Starting with my first teacher, Ms. Gorman. She taught me the foundation of the court reporting language, how to use it, how to make briefs, etc. Mr. Garzon and Mr. P. were the middle mentors in my court reporting program. They helped me gain speed, add more briefs in my dictionary, and open my mind up to new material that I may have in work one day. Finally, Ms. Warmuth was my last mentor to close up my chapter. She took what all of the previous mentors had molded me into and perfected it. She taught me that in this field, you have to have drive, confidence, skill, and accuracy. Any little issue or problem that I had left before graduating, she made sure that it was fixed. I never was afraid to ask any of my teachers anything, because I knew they would be there to help me along the way. That is very important and crucial to have during this process. They are a great support system, and that’s exactly what every court reporting student needs.

UTS | What is the best advice you’ve been given so far?

Agnello | The best advice I have been given so far has come from many people in this field I have come across. It is to never be that comfortable. That applies to when you’re in class, you’re taking a test, or at work. There is always room for growth and for improvement.

UTS | If you were to go to a high school career fair to recruit students, what would you say to them about a career in court reporting and captioning? 

Agnello | If I were to go to a high school career fair to recruit students, I would tell them that this field has a lot of potential and growth for young people like themselves. Unfortunately, no one came to my high school to teach me about this type of profession, so I was completely clueless about what it was. I think students in the program now are perfect examples for new students who want to pursue a career in this field. You can work as an independent contractor, you can work for any one of the courts, and you can work in captioning. There is so much diversity in court reporting which allows each person to find their own direction that suits them.

UTS | Where do you see the profession of court reporting and captioning 10 years from now?

Agnello | In 10 years, I see the profession of court reporting expanding, in terms of technology and employees. There is a shortage of court reporters now, and that is because the word about this profession isn’t spread enough. I feel like more people will be knowledgeable in stenography by that time. Technology will help the profession. Technology does not have the power or capability to replace a human’s skill. Every person speaks differently. Some may have an accent, some may not speak properly, and some may have just a very low voice. These are all reasons why a court reporter needs to be present. We need to make sure that we produce an accurate record, and I do not feel like technology can accurately do that. Technology will help continue to advance the court reporting equipment and programs and help make everything more efficient for the job.

Registration is open for 2018 NCRA Convention & Expo

Registration is now open for the NCRA 2018 Convention & Expo taking place Aug. 2-5 at the Hyatt Regency in New Orleans, La. The 2018 event coincides with the celebration of the Tricentennial of New Orleans, which carries the theme “One Time in New Orleans” and encourages residents and visitors to write their stories about their time in the city.

The Convention Keynote speaker is Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré (U.S. Army, Ret.). Honoré, a 37-year veteran of active service, served as the commander of Joint Task Force Katrina, during which time he became known as the “Category 5 General” for his striking leadership style in coordinating military relief efforts in post-hurricane New Orleans.

This year’s convention also features a lineup of sessions presented by top leaders in the court reporting, captioning, and legal videography fields. Some of those include the CLVS Certification Workshop, featuring the Intro to CLVS and CLVS Hands-on Training, the Punctuation Workshop, and the ever-popular CRR Boot Camp. Throughout the Convention attendees can earn up to 2.3 CEUs.

Other exciting events that are expected to sell out quickly include the CRC Workshop, the annual Realtime and Speed Contests, and the new Member Recognition Gala that promises a wonderful night of dinner, drinks, dancing, and celebrating NCRA members.

In addition, this year’s VIP upgrade registration includes a ticket to a VIP reception being hosted by 2018-2019 President Sue A. Terry, FAPR, RPR, CRR, CRC, from Springfield, Ohio, and VIP seating at the Member Recognition Gala.

As always, there will be a number of networking opportunities, including receptions, luncheons, and special events on the Expo floor, where vendors will showcase the latest in products and services for the court reporting, captioning, and legal videography professions.

“One of the biggest reasons I attend the Convention is for the opportunity to meet and talk to reporters from around the country,” said Susan M. Hora, RDR, CRR, an official court reporter from Columbus, Ohio. “I have learned that we experience the same issues and we can strategize together on overcoming those issues. It reminds me that I am not alone in this profession. It reinvigorates my spirit.”

Join other court reporting professionals from around the country and abroad for the 2018 NCRA Annual Convention & Expo. The NCRA Convention & Expo is the largest annual gathering of court reporters, captioners, scopists, legal videographers, trial presenters, students, and other legal services professionals.

For more information about the NCRA 2018 Convention & Expo, or to register, visit Register before July 20 to avoid late fees. Attendees are also encouraged to reserve hotel rooms for the Convention at the Hyatt Regency New Orleans.

For sponsorship information please contact Mary Petto, Senior Director of External Affairs, at

PROFILE: Charisse Kitt, RMR, CRI

Charisse Kitt, RMR, CRI

Charisse Kitt, RMR, CRI

Official court reporter
Currently resides in: Somerset, N.J.
Member since: 1993
Graduated from: Stenotype Academy

JCR | Why did you decide to earn an NCRA certification?
KITT | I decided to earn an NCRA certification for advancement in my career. School gave me the skill set to perform the job; having certifications prepared me to do the job effectively.

JCR | You have volunteered on some of NCRA’s committees. Can you tell us a little about what you’ve done, and how it affects your perspective about the profession?
KITT | I have been a member of the Student Committee and the Student/Teacher Committee with NCRA. The Student/Teacher Committee decides what seminars to have for students at the annual convention. We decide what reporters we would like to participate in the seminars. We come up with ideas for articles in the JCR and what we are going to promote during Court Reporting & Captioning Week. Being involved has kept me abreast of what’s going on with the new generation of court reporters and the changing dynamics of the profession, even how it’s being taught.

JCR | Do you have any advice for students in school and people who are just getting out of school and into the profession?
KITT | My advice would be to have a mentor while in school and out — something I didn’t have in the beginning of my career. It’s important to have someone you can call upon for advice and to tell you the dos and don’ts. This field can be a lonely one, depending on your choice of employment. And if you don’t surround yourself with experienced court reporters, the journey could be a hard one.
For the students: Don’t give up; victory is right around the corner. Keep pushing yourself. Set goals for yourself. Give yourself a deadline to pass tests; and when you do, reward yourself. If you don’t, don’t beat yourself up. Go over your mistakes and practice them until you know that you will never make that same mistake again.
Remember, practice makes perfect. What you put into it is what you will get out of it.

JCR | Why was it important for you to earn certifications?
KITT | The RPR was my first certification. I wanted the opportunity to work anywhere I chose. At some point I knew I wanted to teach court reporting, so receiving the CRI was important to me. I have the confidence that I can teach effectively, as well as the student knowing that I received the training to do so.

JCR | Have you gotten a job specifically as a result of your certification?
KITT | Yes, being certified allowed me to work in the Eastern District of New York Federal Court. Without being certified, I couldn’t fill out an application, let alone be considered for employment.

JCR | Why do you think professional certification is important?
KITT | You owe it to yourself as a professional to be certified. It sets you apart from the rest. You wouldn’t go to a doctor or a lawyer who, after medical school or law school, didn’t continue to be educated in their profession. The court reporting profession is no different.

JCR | What would you say to encourage others considering earning professional certification?
KITT | You would be doing yourself and the profession a disservice by not being certified. Being certified means: I take pride in being a professional. Go the extra mile, because you deserve it.

JCR | What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?
KITT | My greatest professional accomplishment was working in Federal Court. When I was in school, it was my dream to be a Federal Reporter. Obtaining a position with the Eastern District of New York was and still is the highlight of my career.

PROFILE: Kimberly Xavier, RDR, CRR, CRC, CMRS, CRI

Kimberly Xavier, RDR, CRR, CRC, CMRS, CRI

Kimberly Xavier, RDR, CRR, CRC, CMRS, CRI

Official court reporter
Currently resides in: Arlington, Texas
Member since: 1994
Graduated from: Brown Institute of Court Reporting, Longview, Texas
Theory: StenEd

JCR | Why was it important for you to earn so many certifications?
XAVIER | I’ve always been a “learner.” I love to learn as much as I can take in. But if I had to pin it down, I would say the desire to earn certifications was largely due to cultural and environmental influences early in life. I do know that it was never an option for me to not challenge myself to be the best that I could be at whatever I was trying to accomplish. I think if you could eavesdrop inside the home of just about any African-American family in this country, regardless of their socioeconomic background, you would hear children being told that they must be extraordinary in order to be noticed. You would hear them being told that they could not slack off. You would hear them being told they have to outperform their non-black counterparts just to be considered equal. When you hear that all your life, it can easily become a part of your DNA and who you are. So I’d say I’ve always taken those admonishments to heart.

JCR | Have you gotten a job specifically as a result of your certifications?
XAVIER | I was appointed to report a high-profile change-of-venue case years ago due to my realtime capabilities, and having advanced certifications definitely made saying yes a lot easier and stress-free for me.

JCR | What would you say to encourage others considering earning professional certifications?
XAVIER | The best advice I could give would be to do it now! If you’re a newbie, don’t stop after graduating from school. Continue on the test-taking journey. If you’ve been reporting for a while, do yourself a favor and take that first step and actually register for your chosen exam with an eye toward passing it and not just trying it out to see what it’s like. If you really want it, that financial investment will be what pushes you to commit to the time and effort it will take to pass. So many of us are waiting for something else to happen before we jump in and do it, but there will never be a right time. You will always be busy. There will always be something to distract you. In fact, we often create other things to distract ourselves. Taking an exam is so different from our day-to-day jobs that the longer we wait after completing court reporting school, the harder it is to get back into the flow of standardized testing.

JCR | What surprised you about your career?
XAVIER | I am surprised that I am still working as a reporter and enjoying it! I came to reporting after a stint in the military; and at that time, it was customary for most people to retire after about 20 years in the military. So that number has always stuck in my head as “long enough to be on a job.” But there have been very few days in almost 24 years that I felt like I was going to work. I still enjoy what I’m doing.

JCR | What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?
XAVIER | I enjoy encouraging others to challenge themselves. I enjoy helping others reach their potential in the field. So I would say my greatest accomplishments would probably have something to do with students who eventually become reporters and new reporters who have come to me for training and stuck it out with me. So when I see someone I’ve had a hand in mentoring or training, and they’re excelling and doing their thing in the field and actually enjoying it as much as I do, I consider that an awesome accomplishment.

New NCRA member and court reporting student wins Kindle

New NCRA student member Stephanie Barnes shows off the Kindle she won by joining NCRA in March 2018

Stephanie Barnes, from Falls Church, Va., won the drawing for a Kindle Fire 8 by joining NCRA in March. Barnes is currently an online student at Bryan University, Tempe, Ariz. The JCR reached out to Barnes to learn more about why she is pursuing a career in court reporting and what advice she has for other court reporting and captioning students.

JCR | Why did you choose court reporting as a career?

Barnes | I became a court reporter because I grew up watching my mom do it and it intrigued me. After working many 9-to-5 jobs, I knew that the flexibility in the hours of freelance would better suit me as a person. Also, I just enjoy writing.

JCR | What is your current speed?

Barnes | I am at 180 wpm, looking to pass into 200 wpm here shortly.

JCR | Freelance or Official? Or maybe Captioner?

Barnes | Initially, I wanted to be a freelance reporter, but if I end up following my mom’s footsteps, I will eventually make to the House of Representatives and then the Senate. That seems to be the natural progression as a reporter in Congress.

NCRA’s Member Relations Manager Brenda Gill displays the Kindle being sent to new student member Stephanie Barnes

 JCR | Advice for other students?

Barnes | The main piece of advice I have is: Do not give up! It’s hard, so hard. Sometimes it’s beyond frustrating, but we all eventually get there. Look up and use multiple sites and resources to practice — there are a so many out there if you look.  Join all associations and participate in all things court reporting. It will help keep you motivated and on the right track.

Lastly, use your connections! I have been incredibly blessed to have the ones I do, but you can make more by getting out there and participating in your state and national associations, as well as reaching out to senior reporters for mentorship.

DMACC students pass court reporting speed contest

The Newton Daily News, Des Moines, Iowa, reported on April 5 that three Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) students were among the 182 court reporting students across the nation who competed in a speed contest sponsored by NCRA. The contest was held during Court Reporting & Captioning Week.

Read more.

STUDENT REPORTING: Adventures in court reporting school

By Rick L. Congdon

There is a fine line between perseverance and stubbornness. For me, court reporting school was the most difficult thing I had ever attempted in life. Mine is a not-so-short story about struggle, and it includes two storms, one being a court reporting student and the other a life-threatening winter storm in Colorado.

I started court reporting school in Topeka, Kan., in late September of 1975. There were 12 people in the class on that first day. Within six weeks, the class had slowly shrunk to seven. The dropout rate for court reporting students has always been high. I knew this from the beginning, but I was determined not to be a quitter. I had decided I really wanted to do this.

In school, I had not been a great student, even though I made the honor roll steadily my last two years of high school and attended college for a year. Nothing caught my interest. With court reporting, I discovered very early on that weak-minded me needed to be serious about practice and study. This wasn’t like my experience in high school or college where I could skip class, make an earnest effort at studying a little, take a test, and manage a passing grade. With this, I needed to be dead-on. This required real work.

I realized this after I found myself falling behind the other students. I was the only male in the class, so I felt a little humiliated by my slow start. Those girls were all naturals; I was not. They played piano, had taken shorthand, were secretaries, and had office skills. They were moving on ahead quickly, and I was falling behind. It was going to be a difficult road for me. I eventually found out that building speed was the most difficult part, and I, after much hard work, began to gradually catch up.

I thought if I out-practiced everyone by taking loads of speed tape daily, I would get over the hump and get ahead. What I found out by December 1976, more than a year into the course, was that I was practicing wrong. I took down hours and hours of tape and devoted little time to readback. Some of the speeds were below my best speed, some were at my best speed, and some were just too fast. I thought that taking tape in this manner would pull me along and speed me up. It actually slowed me down and taught me to drop.

I wasn’t progressing. I was also becoming frustrated and depressed and thinking about dropping out of the course entirely. This wasn’t the road I wanted to be on.

Let me digress by saying that I found out that I was at a point in my court reporter training where I had hit a hump, a steep incline, a plateau, or something I would describe as worse, a complete wall in my search to obtain required speed. I started out trying to visualize how to write what I was hearing, but as dictation speeds increased along the path to gaining speed, I had to be able to write subconsciously, without thinking of the specific key strokes so much. It was a process of listening to what’s being said while writing what’s been said with speed and accuracy.

Sometime in the fall of 1976, I passed three 120 wpm tests with 99 percent accuracy, the required accuracy to advance to the next speed class in our school. Passing my 120s allowed me to go into the 140-160 wpm class, and I was dead set on trying to get my 140s passed before the Christmas break. I would take tape all afternoon, practicing in the wrong manner as I have described before. I got so bogged down and so frustrated that I wasn’t even able to write 120. So when the Christmas break hit, I felt defeated and deflated, so much so that I didn’t even take my steno machine home that Christmas to practice. I decided I was going to spend the next two weeks at home, relaxing, seeing friends, going out, and having a good time. (Back then, in my early twenties, that meant drinking beer, going to bars, and meeting girls.)

Two weeks later, after this period of relaxing, frolic, and mayhem, I returned back to school rested and revived and ready to try to give it another good effort. Our speed test days were on Tuesdays and Fridays back then. We’d take the dictation in the classroom, and then run off to the typing room to type up the tests. I took tape on that Monday, but I switched things. I took three five-minute takes and then read them back as practice. That Tuesday, I passed two of the required 140 wpm tests with 99 percent accuracy. On Friday, I passed the third test.

Passing these tests caused me to think: “What had I been doing wrong?” I analyzed the situation and began to practice differently. From then on, I would take three five-minute sessions of tape at my best speed, and I would read it all back. I found that reading it back helped greatly because it helped solidify in my mind the keystrokes that I was making during dictation. The more I read back, the clearer my notes became, and by taking dictation at my best speed, I was helping stretch my retention length in my brain.

By that following fall, I had passed my 200s and felt I was ready to take the Certified Shorthand Reporter (CSR) test. The testing date was in October, and the pressure was on. I wanted to get my certification and get out of school. I felt I did very well on the test, or so I thought. I had gotten it all down and transcribed within the allotted time, but I did not have enough time to proof my work against my paper notes. The time allowed for the CSR test back then was three hours. When the results came back in November, I was devastated! I had failed! To this day, the only thing I can surmise is that I must have missed a fold of notes in transcribing.

This meant six more months of school, practicing, practicing, practicing some more, and working a part-time job that I hated. I was sick of all of that. I wanted to get going and get on with my life and my future!

By December, the classmates that had managed to pass the October CSR test had moved on to jobs and their future lives, and there I was, stuck, dejected, defeated, depressed, and unhappy. By February, I was angry — not at anyone else — but angry at myself for having failed. I needed to learn to transcribe faster so that I could have enough time at the end to proof my notes against my transcription.

About that time, a female friend of mine from back home had moved to Colorado and was now living in Estes Park. Let’s call her Julie. I had an interest in her but we had never dated. I contacted her and told her about things, and we talked about me coming to Estes Park to see her.

Now, I’d had that part-time job for about eight months, and it was very hard work. I had to go through about 35 delivery trucks every evening and pull packages that were headed for certain zip codes in western Kansas. They wouldn’t let me come to work before 6 p.m., and the truck leaving for western Kansas had to be gone by 9:30 p.m., so it was very fast work. It wore me out every day. Those trucks  were all full of packages, and you had to climb over the packages, checking for zip codes.

By February of 1978, I had managed to save some money, and I was going to be receiving a tax refund, so I had the idea and perhaps the need for a late February vacation and a visit to my friend, Julie. I had in mind that maybe I would move to Colorado eventually, find another part-time job, continue to study, and then take the CSR test there. Maybe this was just the move I needed to make! But in case things didn’t work out in Colorado, I wanted to try to hold on to my job in Kansas, just for safekeeping. So that Monday, I went in to work early and asked to speak with my boss.

He said, “What do you need?”

I said, “Can I have a week off? I need to go do something.”

He said, “No.”

I said, “Okay. I quit.”

And with that, I was out of a job and about to embark on a much-needed vacation to Estes Park and Julie.

I immediately went and had new tires put on my 1971 Monte Carlo. I went home and told my roommate what I was about to do. That Tuesday morning, I packed all of my things in the car, said goodbye to the roommate, and hit the road. Only one problem: I hadn’t bothered to check the weather report. Dead of winter in northern Kansas with anticipated travel to Colorado means checking the weather report for possible winter storm conditions. Not smart of me to ignore that! When I was young, I was full of stubborn arrogance.

Traveling down I-70 in Kansas headed west to Colorado gave me a feeling of freedom at first. Then, after a couple of hours, snow began to fall, and it got heavier and heavier. Soon it was a full-fledged winter storm I was driving through. With all of the stuff in my auto, which included everything I had in my apartment — my clothes, TV, court reporting equipment, books, and so on — the interior of my car was so overloaded that the warm air didn’t have enough room to circulate to keep the windows from fogging up.

The storm was throwing wet snow and slush on the windows that would freeze instantly to the wipers. I had to frequently stop and beat the ice off the wipers. The wind was blowing snow across the highway, and it was piling up higher and higher. The wind gusts were a constant 30 mph with sudden gusts up 50 to 60 mph. These gusts would rock my car back and forth. I struggled to keep the car on the road.

I must have been the last person out of Kansas before they closed the gate. It was near midnight when I got to the Denver area, but to conserve money, I decided I would drive on to Estes Park and find a place where I could park the car and spend the night, starting the car every once in a while to keep warm.

When I started to get sleepy, I would play the radio loudly, I would sing, or I would roll the window down a bit to get some fresh air. I did everything I knew to do to stay awake and keep going. Soon I woke up and found that I was traveling 55 mph down the center of the low-slung ditch. I knew I didn’t want to slow down and get stuck, so I kept my speed and sought to edge myself back up on the highway one tire at a time, so as to not start my auto spinning down the highway.

I got the left two tires up on the highway rather easily, but the second two were a problem because the highway had about a two-inch lip at the shoulder that I had difficulty getting over. I was halfway in the right lane and halfway on the shoulder of the roadway. I finally had to just chance it, so I popped the Monte Carlo to the left abruptly. The right rear tire caught the lip, and although I had popped the auto up onto the four-lane road, I was now spinning to my left at 50 mph down the center of a very slick highway. I spun around three times in the center of the roadway, praying all the while: “Nobody hit me, please!”

The car finally stopped, and the engine died. I was facing in the wrong direction. I quickly started the car and got it headed in the right direction. I thought, “Whew! That was close.” I then noticed that there were no other vehicles on the road except me, and snow plows were going in the opposite direction.

So I headed on down the highway, determined to make my intended destination. I had not gone far when I discovered that I had a flat tire. I must have run over a bottle or something in the ditch. So I pulled the car over on the shoulder. There I was, in the middle of the night on a deserted road that was probably closed, surrounded by snow in the middle of a winter storm that wasn’t letting up anytime soon. I thought about just sitting there with the motor running and the heater on, and then the thought occurred to me that if I had an exhaust leak, the carbon monoxide might asphyxiate me. So this could mean life or death for me.

I made the decision to unload everything out of the trunk, get the jack out, jack up the car, and put the spare tire on. I had a thick navy coat and a pair of gloves, but I could not find my sock cap. I got out in this blizzard, emptied everything into the ditch from the trunk, and got busy replacing the tire. However, the new tires were put on with an air-impact tool, and I could not get the last lug nut to loosen. In fact, I was struggling so much with the last lug nut that I was grinding off metal. So now my bad situation just got worse!

The storm kept blowing snow and sleet, and I would get in the car and warm up with the heater. (To this day, I can still feel the hard sleet pounding into my open ears.) The snow would melt from my head and face and coat. Soon I was very wet. I’d get out to give the lug nut one more shot. I’d put all my weight and strength into it. I would slip and fall and bang my knees into the hard surface. I’d slip and hurt my fingers. I’d grind metal off and get back in the car frozen.

By now, a full range of emotions were hitting me. I was scared. I was angry. I was swearing. I was praying. It was crazy! I’d thaw out again and again. I was frozen, wet, and frustrated. This time, I decided I would chip down through the ice to the asphalt. I would chip the ice away and get a good foothold and press all of my weight on that lug nut with all of the strength that I could muster, and hopefully I could get the darn thing to loosen up and come off.

I made that one last attempt and finally I was able to get the lug nut to loosen, and as fast as I could, I took the old tire and wheel off and put on the spare. Then I put all of my stuff back into the trunk. I got back into the car wet, frozen, and thankful. I headed on down the road.

Then I noticed I needed gas, so I searched for a place to get gas. It took a while, but I finally found a truck stop on the side of the road, so I pulled in. As I got out of the car, a kid I would judge to be about 16 years old who apparently worked at the truck stop said, “Did you just come in off that road?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “That’s been closed for the past three hours!”

I eventually did make it to Estes Park, but things there didn’t work out as planned. Julie’s new boyfriend, who I didn’t know about, wasn’t too happy about me showing up for a visit. So after a few days of time spent in Estes Park, I went down to Denver and got a hotel room. I spent a few days in Denver and went to one of the court reporting schools there, looking for some information. I met a nice girl who was a student there. We hit it off. Later I took her out for dinner and a movie.

I even found a job working for the telephone company that week. I was to begin working that next Monday, but, instead, I decided to return to Kansas. I left Denver and went and stayed with a court reporter friend and his family in Wichita for the weekend. That Monday, I went back to the job I had quit. I asked my boss if he had found my replacement yet.

He said, “No.”

So I asked him, “Well, could I have my job back?”

He said, “Okay.”

So I went back to work at that same job. A month later, I took the Kansas CSR test and passed, and in April of 1978, I began my career as a court reporter.

I hope that maybe some court reporting students will read this and realize that court reporting is an adventure, even when you are in school. You need perseverance to succeed. You also need to make good decisions. All of us who have gone down this road have had to work hard to get through school and get certified. It’s a mental test of your ability to cope and to learn, but nothing worthwhile is achieved without great effort! You have to decide that, come hell or high water, and no matter what life throws at you, you are going to persevere and succeed.

Rick L. Congdon, RMR, is a freelancer based in Fort Smith, Ark. He can be reached at

Planet Depos celebrates Court Reporting & Captioning Week with student scholarships

Planet Depos recently announced the winners of three $1,000 cash scholarships the firm sponsored in honor of 2018 Court Reporting & Captioning Week. The three winners were selected out of 47 applicants based on their answers to several questions. All applicants were required to be in high-speed classes or have graduated within the past year.

The winners included: Kolby Garrison from Greensboro, N.C., who attends the College of Court Reporting in Hobart, Ind.; Eun “Grace” Kwahk from Buena Park, Calif., who attends South Coast College in Orange, Calif.; and Nephtali Diaz from Pasadena, Texas, who attends Alvin Community College in Alvin, Texas.

The winners answered the following questions:

  • What motivated you to persevere when faced with a challenge or disappointment?
  • What do you feel is your greatest strength? What do you feel is your greatest weakness?
  • Where do you see yourself professionally in five years from now?

Planet Depos, a global firm based in Washington, D.C., invited three independent court reporters to judge the entries. The judges were provided no information related to the identity or location of the applicant. Judges included NCRA members:

Lisa Knight, FAPR, RDR, CRR, from Littleton, Colo.; Michael Hensley, RPR, from Dublin, Calif.; and Nancy Mahoney, RPR, from Cranford, N.J.

“As part of the mission of Planet Institute, we feel it is important to support both the court reporting schools and the students themselves. Schools provide the education that the students need to enter the workforce. Planet Institute offers internship and mentoring opportunities to bridge the gap between school and career,” said Kathy DiLorenzo, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC, director of U.S. Court Reporting for Planet Depos.

“As court reporters, we know all too well what it takes to reach the final speeds of the program, so we decided to reward three outstanding students who were nearing completion. It seemed only fitting to offer the scholarships during NCRA’s 2018 Court Reporting & Captioning Week.”

Planet Depos launched its Planet Institute, a student-to-career mentoring program, during Court Reporting & Captioning Week in 2016.

According to DiLorenzo, the firm anticipated about 30 entries and was delighted when nearly 50 applicants applied for the scholarships. To get the word out about the scholarships, the firm posted a link to the application on various student and court reporting social media sites, as well as notifying each school by direct email.

“We were very pleased with the serious thought and overall effort of the students in answering the questions posed. We learned of their challenges. We learned of their disappointments and their personal triumphs. We learned of their perseverance. We learned of their hopes for the future,” said DiLorenzo. “Each of the winners expressed sincere gratitude for the opportunity to compete for the scholarships. Planet Depos is proud to support the future generation of court reporters.”



What did you do to make a difference for Court Reporting & Captioning Week?

By Debbie Kriegshauser

I must share with you all that I had a “peach of a time” visiting the Brown College of Court Reporting in Atlanta, Ga., during Court Reporting & Captioning Week. I was beyond impressed with the school. The classroom layouts, the labs, the faculty, and the administration were just amazing – not to mention the best students in the United States. There are 41 daytime students, 32 evening students, and 125 online students. That is phenomenal! We certainly can’t take a chance of losing this program.

We all remember those days of the dreaded “guest speaker” when we were in school, but I must say we had a fantastic time. Several of the students who chose to sit in the back of the room were dancing in the aisles and happy-go-lucky when they left. Oh, yes, we had attendance prizes, Valentine’s Day candy bags, and some good ole fun and enjoyment. They love those wonderful reference books the NCRA Store has for sale, plus I rewarded the student I mentor there with a convention registration for being the main reason I went to Brown College of Court Reporting in the first place. Thank you, Kimesha Smith Stallworth, for arranging this opportunity!

I thoroughly enjoyed sharing my life and work experience with the students. I’m currently a federal official in St. Louis, Mo., and have been for 15 years. But I had done 25 years of freelance work before that, not to mention two years of CART reporting for a deaf student studying Agricultural Science, some dabbling in the captioning side of life, and providing media coverage for a Senior PGA Tournament on top of the freelance work. Needless to say, I had a lot to share with the students. I could have consumed the entire day. I also went into my professional memberships and covered an array of committees I have served on to show the students that involvement in your professional organizations is priceless!

We all have some experiences we can share with students as well as prospective students across the country. I challenge each and every one of you to share a bit of your court reporting or captioning experience with our schools. You can make a difference. You have to “just do it!” Did I mention the school YouTubed the entire evening presentation while it streamed it to the online students?

And the best part of this college visit: I got invited back! I also received the nicest “thank you” card. Thank you, Brown College of Court Reporting, especially Mark Green, Jr., director of career services, and Marita Carey, director of administration!

Debbie Kriegshauser, FAPR, RMR, CRR, CRC, CLVS, is an official court reporter at the federal level from St. Louis, Mo.