Tri-C court reporting professor earns national honor

JCR logoThe Cuyahoga Community College, Cuyahoga, Ohio, issued a press release on April 18 announcing that the JCR recently honored Jen Krueger, RMR, CRI, CPE, an associate professor of captioning, with an award for innovative use of technology.

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NCRA student member featured in business article

JCR logoNCRA student member Abby Cook, a student in the court reporting program at the Community College of Allegheny County, Pittsburgh, Pa., was recently featured in an article about career changers. Cook is a cousin of Lisa Nagy-Baker, RDR, CRR, a freelance reporter from Annapolis, Md., and NCRA past president.

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New professional spotlight: Aimee Edwards-Altadonna

By Rachel Barkume

Aimee Edwards-Altadonna headshotFreelance reporter Aimee Edwards-Altadonna, from Modesto, Calif., came to reporting as a second career, looking to blend her creative side with her interest in the legal field. She talks a little about how she entered the field, what she loves about reporting, and how she and her husband Vinny balance home, family, and work life.

What made you want to become a court reporter?

I came to court reporting in one giant full-circle moment. I wanted to be a lawyer in college and maybe become a lobbyist for the National Organization for Women (NOW) or work for NOW as an attorney fighting for women’s rights and equal pay. I even went so far as to have submitted my law school application and completed the LSAT. While wrapping up my college career, I started working for lawyers as a legal assistant/secretary so I could get a good feel for what that world would be like — and to be honest, I didn’t love it. Right about the time I had to make the call to start law school, I found a new hobby — glass fusing. I fell hard and my hobby quickly turned into an obsession. So much so that I decided to take a year off after college and just play with it. That year off turned into seven years, and I found myself running a full-time small business selling fused glass artwork and jewelry in my galleries in Monterey and Carmel, Calif. It was a great time, and I learned a lot about what it takes to be a small-business owner in California. I eventually closed the business when my first son, Owen, was born. I’ve always been an ambitious person and, for me, I needed to do more than be a full-time, stay-at-home mom. I started thinking about going back to school. I knew I did not want to go to law school anymore. I did some research and started considering court reporting. I started court reporting school online when my son was 10 months old, and it was the perfect combination of the legal world and artistry in becoming proficient on the steno machine.

What tips would you give to a new professional who is trying to maintain a healthy work/life balance?

Get a massage. Get a massage. Get a massage! Did I mention, get a massage? You have to take care of your body. I started out getting routine massages every month, and then every two weeks, and now I get one almost every week. It makes a huge difference in the discomfort I feel from sitting all day during depositions and driving all those miles.

I also think it’s important to always have something to look forward to such as a trip to a convention or a little ocean getaway with the whole family over a weekend. Having those plans in place reminds you why you are working so hard all the time and reminds you that there is life outside of work and a light at the end of the tunnel or editing cave.

What are your future goals for your court reporting career?

In the short term, I would like to complete the last leg of my RPR. When I am finally certified, I put it in my five-year plan to be a realtime reporter. The first two-and-a-half years have flown by, but I’m steadily improving my skillset.

What are some of your favorite time-saving practices, techniques, or gadgets?

I love Cozi, a calendaring app. Our whole family uses it, and it makes coordinating our life so much easier. It lets you set reminders for things on your calendar and manage your grocery list at the same time. I calendar out my due dates, and it dings and reminds me as they approach.

I also love the Expensify app. I use it to manage all my receipts and mileage log. I take photos of my receipts and then make reports for myself at the end of the year based on categories I chose. It’s fabulous during tax season. I love not having to keep a giant stack of receipts. You can even email the digital receipts for stuff you buy online right into the app.

Do you have a mentor?

Yes, I have a mentor! I found her when I was already nearing exit speeds, but her constant advice has been invaluable to me as I transitioned from a student, to a student and a proofer, to a student and a proofer and a scopist, and all the way out into the working reporting world. She has guided me and been the most amazing sounding board. She has talked me off many ledges and became one of my very best friends, too. One of the best things she instilled in me was to work hard and play hard. She has always said that some days you are the bird, and some days you are the statue. So when I have a fabulous day and passed a test or nailed readback like a boss, I am the bird flying high. And when I have a horrible, rotten, no good, very bad day, I am the statue below the bird. It has taught me to take each day as it comes knowing that the bad day will be over soon, and I will be back to a fabulous day very soon. Having a mentor is very important for a student and a new reporter. There are so many little things that will come up as you go along, and having someone who just gets it and can help you through will save your sanity.

Your husband, Vinny, has been a prominent supporter of you in your court reporting career. How do you feel that has helped you in your court reporting endeavors? What advice would you or Vinny give to a significant other of a court reporter?

Vinny has kept me sane and fed! He went to culinary school, so we eat really well. He celebrated every little victory along the way to me becoming a reporter and continues to be my biggest supporter and cheerleader. He also lets me vent on the bad days. I would not be a reporter if he hadn’t had my back from the very start. Plus, he doesn’t complain when I travel for jobs or conventions. He and the kids take it in stride, which makes it so much better.

Vinny’s advice for court-reporting significant others:

As the husband of a full-time court reporter, there are three things that I’ve had to learn:

  • Keep it in perspective — Aimee is constantly dealing with all the little ups and downs of her career. She’s constantly juggling jobs, transcripts, scopists, proofers, daily travel schedules, invoices, cash flow, expenses, conventions — the list is endless — and sometimes she gets caught up in that. It can be a bit overwhelming. I try to look at the big picture and keep her motivated and know that by month’s end, we’ll be good.
  • Be flexible — my depo lovin’ court reporter does not have a set schedule, and that means I need to be able to flex and adjust as needed. My work schedule can flex at times, and this allows us the ability for her to pick up that last-minute, out-of-town job. It also helps to have a support structure around us as well.
  • Team effort — Aimee and I are a team, and as the husband-unit in this team, I often have to fill in when she’s out of town. We don’t break up our relationship into “things she does” and “things I do.” We just get it all done. Wash those dishes, clean those clothes, pick up/drop off the kids, go shopping, make dinner, go to that parent-teacher conference solo — it’s part of the game, so just get it done!

What do you like best about being a court reporter?

I love how every single day is different. I am a bit of a road warrior and love exploring new cities, so I will happily cover work all over California — Central Coast, Central Valley, the greater Bay Area, and Sacramento. I cover from Fresno to San Jose to San Francisco and love it all. Every day I am in a new location if I am not at home editing away.

I love the freedom reporting affords me as well. If I want to go to Monterey for a day or two, I can pick up a job by the sea and work a little, too. I also love the fact that if I have a terrible day with an attorney who won’t stop talking over the witness, I never have to go back and work with them again. I have total control in who I will and won’t work with, and that feels amazing!

Court reporting has also brought me the most wonderful group of friends and colleagues ever. I have never met a group of people who are so wonderfully supportive and always trying to lift each other up. I stand in awe of the tribe I have created and their accomplishments as reporters and in life.

What do you like to do when you’re not reporting?

When I am not reporting, I am home with my family, curled up with a book or binge watching a show with my menagerie of fur babies smothering me with love. We have three dogs, a cat, an 85-pound sulcata tortoise, and a baby sulcata tortoise. (The tortoises do not cuddle.)

We also love to take family day trips to Monterey, our happy place. Earlier this year, my husband and I started selling LuLaRoe clothing after I purchased a new wardrobe slowly last year. So now we can be found selling the LuLa in our Facebook group or out of our home boutique in our “spare time.” I even took it to the California Deposition Reporters Association conference in Napa a couple months ago and shared it with my fellow reporters. It was so much fun!

Can you tell us a little about your background and current position?

I have a B.A. from California State University Monterey Bay in human communications with a concentration in women’s studies. I did the majority of my reporting education online through Bryan College and College of Court Reporting. I qualified at West Valley College in Saratoga. I broke my ankle in three places and dislocated it the very same night I qualified so I didn’t return to West Valley to prep for the Certified Shorthand Reporter (CSR) due to my injury and the distance — up to three hours one way in traffic. I prepped for the CSR at Humphreys College in Stockton, 25 minutes from my home, after I recovered enough to do so. I passed all three legs of the CSR on the first try after I won my appeal on the machine portion of the test.

Vinny and I have been married for 17 years and have two pretty awesome spawn. Owen is 9 and loves science and math and karate and basketball. Chloe is 7 and loves all things artistic, from drawing to dancing to singing. They both devour books at a startling rate just like their parents do, and they are way into technology and computer and video games.

I currently freelance for multiple firms. I am a deposition reporter only. I do not cover court work or hearings. I go everywhere for work. I love to work full-day jobs a couple times a week and frequently cover video jobs. I have done everything from work comp at the beginning to doctors to asbestos work to prison jobs and construction defect jobs in a room with 17 attorneys. I am always up for a challenge and will try most any type of job at least once.

Rachel Barkume, RPR, is an official reporter from Oakhurst, Calif., and a member of the New Professionals Committee. She can be reached at rachel.barkume@gmail.com.

Court reporter’s project gives back to children

JCR logoAlabama court reporter and firm owner Lori Sizemore-Warren, RPR, was recognized in an article in the April 7 News Courier (Athens, Ala.) for founding the My Guardian Angel Project in the fall of 2015. The program provides backpacks to police officers to keep in their cruisers for children who are removed from a home or an accident scene.

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NCSA 2017 challenge winner exceeds last year’s win

Erminia_NCSA_squareFor the past three years, the National Committee of State Associations (NCSA) has issued a friendly challenge among state associations and individuals to spread the word about the benefits of a career in career in court reporting or captioning. Participants had the chance to win complimentary registrations to NCRA events or vouchers for continuing education. Erminia Uviedo, RDR, CRR, a freelance court reporter from San Antonio, Texas, has won the grand prize of a complimentary registration to the NCRA Convention & Expo for the last two challenges.

In an interview about her first win, Uviedo said her goal was to win again in 2017 by beating her own record of coordinating participation in 26 school career fairs. And top honors she did earn by coordinating volunteers for participation in 32 career fairs and college nights in the San Antonio area.

The JCR Weekly reached out to her to learn more about what motivates her to put so much effort into promoting the profession.

How many career fairs did you organize for court reporters to participate in during this last NCSA challenge?

I contacted, reserved tables, and coordinated volunteers for 32 career fair/college nights, mainly in San Antonio, but also reached out to some schools in South Texas, West Texas, and North Texas.

How many of those did you participate in?

I participated in seven events as a presenter.

How did you identify events to participate?

This year, I tried to add schools we didn’t reach last year, and we returned to the schools that had a good setup for meeting students. I also searched the Web for advertisements for college nights for certain areas.

How did you recruit volunteers to help?

I posted on Facebook asking for volunteers again and had a lot of returning volunteers. They were so excited to help again. I reached out to certain court reporters I knew in other areas that have always been willing to help. I was very happy with recruitment in the Rio Grande Valley (McAllen and Brownsville). They began recruiting just this year and had seven successful events. I expect more activity next year. #teamwork

What is the biggest factor motivating you to reach out to participate in so many career day events?

My motivating factor has been the threat of court reporting school closings. So many court reporting schools have been closing as of late. San Antonio College had that threat a few years ago. We had 37 students enrolled at the time, and I made it my personal goal to see if we could attain 100 student enrollments. With 67 currently enrolled, we are well on our way.

What have some of the responses been from students learning about court reporting for the first time?

Students are always in awe of the technology. They are amazed. When I tell them it’s like texting, they are even more intrigued.

Do you know of any students who have followed a career path in this profession because of career fairs you have participated in?

Yes, I do, more than a couple. I always ask: Where did you hear about us? Some have said career fairs. Some have said Facebook posts. Some just knew somebody who knew somebody who was a court reporter.

Do you serve as a mentor for current court reporting students? If so, why?

Because court reporting is such a unique skill, students need motivation to keep going. Family members and friends don’t understand their frustration in getting a 95 percent on a test. But reporters definitely do. We can definitely relate. Sometimes all students need is a friendly ear.

But working reporters also provide valuable information to students, likes tips on practicing, writing shorter, writing cleaner, dealing with test anxiety, and being professional. All of our San Antonio College court reporting students get sponsored to attend our state convention; every single one. Since our San Antonio Elite Mentorship Program got off the ground two years ago, we have so many more students advancing. The first year we had six sit for the certified shorthand reporter exam, more than we did in many years. This year we expect to have another five, at least.

I am assuming you have fun participating in these events. What is the best part of participating for you?

I love demonstrating realtime for students. I love to write what they are saying, and they get such a kick out of it. They are always fascinated, as are the teachers, counselors, and parents.

What advice would you give to other reporters thinking of participating in career fairs?

I would definitely tell them it’s a team effort. If they can get together a group of reporters who are all willing to cover these fairs in a certain area, that would be the best approach. Reporters’ schedules change daily, so, if a whole team is together and willing, the process of getting them all coordinated and covered will go that much smoother.

What is the best part of attending a national convention?

My first NCRA convention was in Las Vegas back in 2011. At the time, the best part for me was being kept apprised of all the issues facing our profession. I love advancing my skills. The first NCRA convention, I was excited about Realtime Coach. It was just starting. And I loved the concept because I was working on my realtime at the time. This past year, I was excited about attending the captioner’s workshop and learning about the field of captioning.

What are you looking forward to most about this year’s convention?

I loved meeting court reporting students and new reporters last year. I love to hear their stories of where they are working now, where they went to school, what they did to overcome obstacles, or how they practiced. Any tips I can bring back to our students.

You were also a recipient of a JCR Award this year. Were you surprised? What is so important about earning this award?

Yes, I was a little surprised. I feel so honored to have been recognized by NCRA. What an accomplishment! I feel it’s like winning an Emmy.

What is your goal for next year’s NCSA challenge?

I would love to reach more schools in the Rio Grande Valley, try to increase recruitment to 10 next year, as the Rio Grande Valley has been feeling the shortage for a while now and it’s such a wonderful place to live and work.

I feel that every state needs to form a Student Recruitment Committee or Task Force. Map out your state and get to work! It’s not difficult at all. There are plenty of schools and recruiting opportunities. We just need the volunteers to cover them. We can keep our court reporting schools open!

The art of it: Providing mobile CART at the Art Institute of Chicago

Cathy Rajcan, RDR, CRR, CRC, understands the importance of access in all situations. One of her regular assignments is providing CART for lectures at the Art Institute of Chicago.

The Art Institute recently offered a tour to a group interested in accessibility and asked Rajcan to provide CART for the group. Since tours do not stay still, neither could Rajcan. The JCR talked to Rajcan about how she handled this mobile CART assignment.

How did you get the assignment to CART an art museum tour? How often have you done an assignment like this?

I have been providing CART for lectures at the Art Institute of Chicago for a few years. The lectures are offered to members and the general public. This was the first time I have provided mobile CART at the Art Institute, and it was a lot of fun. The event was organized in conjunction with the Chicago Cultural Accessibility Consortium, a nonprofit volunteer organization that has been facilitating various cultural venues in Chicago to create welcoming environments for people with disabilities. This particular event was focused on making visual art more accessible to people who are blind or have low vision, and participants were learning how to audio-describe the artwork they were observing. The Art Institute has WiFi throughout the building, which is very helpful in making communication access available to large groups.

Does the Art Institute offer CART regularly for tours and other events, or was this organized separately?

The Art Institute of Chicago has been providing ASL-interpreted tours for a couple years, and I have been discussing with their education department making the mobile CART available for the tours specifically for people who have hearing loss but do not use ASL. CART captioning has been made available particularly to mature audiences, who have a higher incidence of hearing loss.

Cathy Rajcan, on left, writes on her steno machine, which is strapped to her with a harness. At right, a tour guide talks about a piece of art for a museum guest.What is your setup for mobile CART?

For mobile CART, I loaded my CAT software onto my tablet and Bluetoothed my Diamonte to the tablet. From the tablet I sent my realtime stream to an Internet platform, and then provided the URL to the tour attendees so that additional people could view the CART stream from their handheld devices and smartphones. The setup with the mobile table is quite different ergonomically. I practiced on several occasions in advance prior to providing mobile CART to become comfortable writing while standing and getting my steno machine situated in the best way possible. I also told the docent in advance to please only speak while stopped rather than while walking, which would maintain a high degree of accuracy — I told them, “This is much more difficult than walking and chewing gum!” My steno machine was attached to the mobile table with a large commercial strength Velcro circle as well as a small stabilizing strap for extra peace of mind — it is, after all, a $5,000 piece of equipment!

What were some of the words and phrases you made sure you had in your dictionary for this assignment?

This was literally “thinking on my feet” as far as consciously recalling the unique dictionary entries I have created for art-related names and terms. I have approximately 200 specifically unique job dictionaries that I use according to the topic and setting. My Art Institute dictionary is approximately 400 entries; however, I always request in advance of a CART assignment prep materials for that particular day, and then I study those entries prior to the event. This tour was in the Modern Wing, which currently houses the Edlis/Neesen Contemporary Art collection, a gift from Stefan Edlis, a Chicago-based art collector and philanthropist, and his wife Gael Neesen. In addition to the donors’ names, I included in my dictionary the names of artists who created the pieces — e.g. Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, Katharina Fritsch, and Jasper Johns — and the names of some of the pieces, such as Liz # 3, Target, and Woman with Dog (Frau mit Hund).

Was this assignment related to your personal interests at all?

I have a true appreciation for visual, musical, and performing arts. Other than my unique skill as a court reporter and captioner and some domestic textile talents, I am not gifted in the arts. Although several years ago a friend of mine who is a master violinist explained to me that we all have various talents, and those with skills in the performing arts and fine arts are grateful for those of us who appreciate their talents and are audience members and enthusiasts. Having provided realtime captioning at performing arts events, I have gained a great appreciation for the abilities of performers to memorize and perform the dialogue and lyrics in plays and musicals. They are truly amazing!

Cathy Rajcan, RDR, CRR, CRC, is a CART captioner in Wheaton, Ill. She can be reached at efficiencyrptg@cs.com.

NCRA member quoted about health-care issue

JCR logoThe Journal Times (Racine, Wis.) posted an article on March 27 that includes an interview with NCRA member Mary Vavrik, RMR, a freelance reporter from Anchorage, Alaska, about the recent proposed health-care plan that was slated to replace the Affordable Care Act.

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Retired NCRA member Edward Wontor passes

Edward (Ed) M. Wontor, 89, passed away at his home in Sun Lakes, Ariz., on Feb. 27, 2017. WontJCR logoor worked as a court reporter in the 4th Judicial District Court in Montana for 35 years until his retirement.

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VIEWPOINT: Does our profession shape our lives?

By Renee Cuffe

We spend so much time doing what we do that I wonder what happens to our brains, how our chosen professions must change us. How would I be different if I had chosen another career path? I’m not talking about money; I’m thinking about things such as: Am I more empathetic — or less? Do I listen more closely to the people I love — or less closely?

I’m a professional listener. Year after year, I spend my days quietly taking in the intimate details of people’s lives. And I judge them. I am judge and jury. They are not people. They are stories. Am I hardened? A little.

When I come home, sometimes I need to talk after a day of being silent. Other days I can’t bear to hear the sound of a human voice.

Some days, I may be smug and self-righteous, and I may come home with a you-won’t-believe-this tale. Other days, I am humbled and grateful for what I have because bad things happen to good people.

Yesterday, I sat in a room, angry at a man who is probably actually very nice and well respected in his field. He wore a wedding ring, so I thought he might be a wonderful husband and father to someone.

But I hated him for the simple fact that no matter how many times I interrupted him, he continued to be exactly who he was: an expert in the field of water rights. A hydrogeologist. I wondered if his chosen profession, like me, has made him who he is. The terms he used were multi-syllabic and unfamiliar to my ear. I tripped over his acronym-filled blather that meant nothing to me.

He would lead off his pages-long diatribe strong and clear, and like a competitive runner, I felt confident about what I was about to do. I capture the spoken word with my ears, I thought to myself. It runs through my brain and flows out of my fingers to print, even as I’m planning dinner and winning imaginary arguments in my head.

But he was a swallower of words. His diction could best be described as a stage whisper, swallowing the words at the end of every sentence, which is fine for everyday speech, in a conversation where people finish each other’s sentences. But that’s not my job.

I wanted to say, “I see your lips moving, but if I don’t listen closely, it is just noise. Stop it.” As the testimony flew by, at times I wasn’t sure if I was missing words because I couldn’t hear them. And I don’t know if they are important or not.

Today I wake up with my back aching from sitting tensely in my seat and my neck stiff from being held so rigid. Even my eyes ache from the death stare I held for most of the day. I dread seeing his words again on my computer screen. Am I keeper of the record or a creative writer? He has made my life difficult. Today, I will make a mush-mouthed authority on aquifer transmissivity, the intricacies of Division 25, and spread-sheet analysis look good.

And by tomorrow, I will have forgotten this day and moved onto the next car accident, divorce, slip and fall, or contract squabble. Maybe I will hear about siblings who have hated each other for years or a nasty bit of workplace sexual harassment. Botched surgeries. Broken dreams.

I profit from others’ misery.

And I am still wondering, how am I different?

Renee Cuffe, RPR, is a freelancer based in Salem, Ore. She can be reached at racuffe@yahoo.com.

NCRA MEMBER PROFILE: Brandi N. Bigalke, RPR

Brandi Bigalke, RPR

Brandi Bigalke, RPR

Currently resides in: Minneapolis, Minn.

Employment type: Freelance court reporter

Member since: 2013

Graduated from: Rasmussen Business College

Theory: Computer-Compatible Stenograph Theory

What are your favorite briefs or tips?

I recently purchased Ed Varallo’s books, and I’m slowly integrating his writing tips. I am already benefiting from this investment – both in time and money.

Why did you decide to enter this profession and how did you learn about the career?

In middle school, as an assignment I had to write to a college and request information.

The college I contacted had a court reporting program, and I became intrigued. After that, I also found out a family acquaintance was a court reporter, and my parents encouraged me to try it.

What has been your best work experience so far in your career?

In 2016, I worked on a large case, spanning over a couple of months. It included multiple realtime hookups, both in the room and streaming. While I had numerous realtime jobs under my belt, this was a first I had to stream a live realtime feed.

A job of this magnitude can be intimidating at first, but the process of learning new technology enhanced my love for what we do. It is rewarding to be challenged and successful in this type of setting.

What was your biggest hurdle to overcome and how did you do so?

One of the biggest hurdles I’ve overcome in this profession is rediscovering my love of it. A few years ago, I let the job get the better of me and had to take a step back from reporting. I was burned out and pursued other business.

Stepping away from court reporting allowed me to see this career through a different lens. I was reminded that as reporters, we possess a unique skill set and I realized I needed to embrace my skill, not waste it. The insights I gained from stepping away reshaped my outlook not only on this profession, but what I wanted out of my career.

Upon my return to reporting full-time, I have realized it is up to me to shape my own career and future. I have control as to what kind of work I take, what firms I want to partner with, and embrace the aspects of this career that drive me.

There’s nothing more gratifying than seeing your steno come up in English, and knowing you provide a very incredible service.

Tell us about a challenge you overcame as a reporter.

One challenge I remember is being a new reporter. I was young, just a few years out of high school. I remember feeling out of my league, working with attorneys who had spent decades building their practice and in walks a young 20-something year old. I remember driving to depositions with butterflies in my stomach. I overcame it by faking it, until eventually I didn’t have to fake it anymore. Confidence comes with experience and if you don’t have experience, a good mentor can make all the difference.

Do you have a favorite gadget or tool?

Hands down, my favorite tool is Brief It in CaseCatalyst. The developers at Stenograph deserve an award for this one! The dramatic improvement in my realtime feed is notable, which feeds my desire to want to continually improve my skill. I am being reminded of forgotten entries and adding entries into my dictionary on the fly. Because of Brief It, I’m increasing the value of my dictionary, with no extra work. I just love it!