DMACC court reporting student receives scholarship

JCR: Journal of Court Reporting, TheJCR.com, JCR WeeklyThe Newton Daily News posted an article on Aug. 15 announcing that Maggie DeRocher, RPR, of LeMars, Iowa, received a $1,000 scholarship from the National Court Reporting Association Council on Approved Student Education. DeRocher is a graduate of the Des Moines Area Community College Newton Campus court reporting program.

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VHP event hosted by ICRA in the news

JCR logoOn May 1, The Messenger, Fort Dodge, Iowa, posted an article showcasing a Veterans History Project event hosted by members of the Iowa Court Reporters Association and the 2nd Judicial District.

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ICRA seeks veterans to share their stories

JCR logoThe Iowa Court Reporters Association has invited veterans to share their stories for the Library of Congress Veterans History Project via an article posted on dailyiowegian.com on April 12. ICRA plans to hold the VHP Day during its annual convention in June.

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The confidence to succeed in school

Photo of Rachel Ellefson: a young woman with blond hair in a red blazerStaying motivated in court reporting school is a struggle that every student faces. Dealing with stress and hitting speed plateaus are common frustrations. This quarter, we spotlight Rachel Ellefson, RPR, a recent graduate of Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) in Des Moines, Ill. who now works as an official reporter for the State of Iowa. Rachel has some advice for students: try to find the confidence to overcome self-doubt and practice, practice, practice!

Can you talk a little about your background? You already had a bachelor’s degree, correct, before you started at DMAAC? What made you decide to change careers to go into court reporting?

Right after high school, I went to a four-year college having no idea what I wanted to do with my life and earned my B.A. in business administration. After that, I started working in a business office at a local college, and it didn’t take long for me to realize that wasn’t something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. My mom is a court reporter, so court reporting is a profession I have always been familiar with. My mom and I went to an information session at DMACC about the court reporting program, and I was hooked.

Describe your practice routine while you were a student. How many hours a day did you practice?

My usual practice routine consisted of practicing dictation files my teacher had recorded during class and working on briefs. I also found it helpful to transcribe portions of dictation that I struggled with and just write them over and over until I could write it perfectly, and then I would write it again with the audio. Working through the difficult stuff made everything else seem easy.

I can’t really say how many hours a day I practiced because it was never the same. I am a believer in quality over quantity. Some days that meant I practiced for one hour, and some days three or four. For me, it was more important to get in quality, focused practice than to worry about getting in a certain amount of hours a day. I am also a believer in taking days off. Sometimes you just need to step away from your machine and relax.

Did you hit any speed plateaus while you were going through school? What advice do you have for students who get stuck at a particular speed?

I think a big thing about getting stuck at a speed is the hit it takes on your confidence. It’s so easy to become frustrated when you don’t pass a take, but you really have to stay confident. Don’t dwell on the takes you failed. Wake up and tell yourself every day that you can do it, and eventually you will start to believe it.

What were your biggest frustrations during your court reporting program? What kept you motivated along the way?

The biggest frustration I had during school is kind of a weird one. I worked very hard in school to get all of my required takes passed with plenty of time to spare before the semester ended. I was frustrated with having to continue to sit in speed classes I had already passed. At the time, DMACC was a brand-new program and didn’t have higher speed classes to sit in. I ended up using those times to work on shortening and cleaning up my writing, which I know has paid off in the long run.

My mom definitely kept me motivated during those times. As annoying as it was to have her ask me every single day if I had practiced and how it went, she really held me accountable.

You mention that DMACC was a brand-new program when you started. Can you give us a little context and tell us a little about what that was like?

DMACC announced their plan to add the court reporting program in late spring/early summer of 2014, and the first classes started in August of 2014, which meant they had a very short period of time to get the program going. So when I started court reporting school, we had a very small class, the court reporting program only had one instructor, and there were no second-year students, which meant no higher speed classes to sit in on and no survivors of the theory classes to talk to. However, the Iowa Court Reporters Association paired us with mentors, who were such a great support system.

By the start of my second year in school, DMACC had added instructors and the new class of theory students was full. DMACC and the Iowa Court Reporters Association really put in a lot of effort to get the program started, for which I am extremely grateful, and I am proud to say I was in the first court reporting class at DMACC.

Were you also balancing a family and/or a job during school? How did you manage that?

I waitressed one night during the week, in addition to Fridays and Saturdays, and also babysat one night a week. I knew going into the court reporting program that school needed to be my priority and that it would require a lot of time. At the same time, I wasn’t willing to quit working altogether and live on student loans, so when my parents offered to let me move back home to save money, I did. Doing so allowed me to only have to work about 15 hours a week and keep my focus on getting out of school.

Did you take any of your RPR legs while you were in school? What was that like?

I took a literary test during my last semester in school, and it was terrible. It was after that I realized it was going to be an adjustment taking tests online. It was so different from what I was used to in school. I was used to live dictation and watching the speakers, which made the transition to the RPR tests difficult for me. I wish I hadn’t developed a habit of looking at the speakers.

How did you find your first job?

I knew when I started court reporting school that I wanted to work as an official for the State of Iowa. Iowa pays well, it has great benefits, and officials get six months to earn their certification. So once I passed my last take at school, I went to the Iowa Judicial Branch website, looked at my options, found the job I wanted, and within the next month, I started my career.

What is the best thing about being a court reporter? What is the hardest?

Court reporting is pretty sweet. Making a verbatim record at 225 words per minute is not something just anyone can do, and I take a lot of pride in my ability to do that. I also like that I’m not listening to the same thing every day.

Going into court reporting, I really thought asking people to slow down or speak up would be the hardest thing, but I got over that pretty quickly. I think the hardest thing is taking down the testimony of someone who mumbles.

Have you ever attended any state or national conventions?

I attended parts of the past two Iowa conventions. I really enjoyed them. Court reporters love students. People were always coming up to us and asking how school was going and telling us about their experiences. Conventions are a really great way to network.

Do you have any advice for students trying to make it through court reporting schools today?

Confidence, confidence, confidence. If you doubt yourself while you’re practicing, I can guarantee that as soon as you get to a hard part in a test, doubt will kick in and take over. Tell yourself you can do it.

Court offices to take furlough day to meet budget cuts

jcr-publications_high-resThe Sioux City Journal reported on Jan. 31 that court workers across Iowa will take an unpaid day off on May 26 to help meet a $3 million reduction in the state’s judicial branch’s current fiscal year budget.

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Court reporting schools and state associations across country honor veterans through the Veterans History Project

Many court reporting schools, state associations, firms, and courthouses across the nation celebrate Veterans Day by interviewing veterans about their wartime experiences for the Veterans History Project (VHP). These VHP Days have become annual traditions in Iowa, Minnesota, and Illinois, to name just a few places.

Iowa Court Reporters Association & Des Moines Area Community College

For the past eight years, the Iowa Court Reporters Association (ICRA) has partnered with a local court reporting school to host a VHP Day in November. The event was hosted at AIB College of Business until the school closed its court reporting program in 2012. When Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) picked up AIB’s court reporting program, it also happily picked up the partnership with ICRA. Between the partnerships with AIB and DMACC, ICRA has interviewed almost 200 veterans.

On Nov. 4, DMACC and ICRA hosted their third shared VHP Day and interviewed 12 veterans who had served in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Desert Shield, Desert Storm, and Operation Enduring Freedom.

The event involves more than simply interviewing veterans. This year, the local color guard posted the colors, Renee Davenport sang the national anthem, and Col. Greg Hapgood from Camp Dodge in Johnson, Iowa, handed out framed certificates to the veterans following a catered luncheon.

The event provides an opportunity to recognize veterans for their service, even when the veterans do not believe there is anything noteworthy about their service.

The committee who organized the VHP Day in Illinois. From left, front row: Teresa Kordick, Julie Van Cleve, Patti Ziegler. Back row: Kelli Mulcahy, Pam Burkle, Carrie Nauman, and Amanda Kieler. (Not pictured: Dixie Rash and Kelly Pieper)

The committee who organized the VHP Day in Illinois. From left, front row: Teresa Kordick, Julie Van Cleve, Patti Ziegler. Back row: Kelli Mulcahy, Pam Burkle, Carrie Nauman, and Amanda Kieler (Not pictured: Dixie Rash and Kelly Pieper)

“The common theme I have noted among all stories is that they don’t feel that their service was of any particular importance,” said Pamela Burkle, RPR, an official from Urbandale, Iowa, one of the organizers of the annual event. “But when you put them all together, they are important. One part cannot work without the other. One veteran said he made bread, and that was his job, and he didn’t feel it was very important. However, I think if you asked any of the veterans in his platoon, they would say their bread/food was an integral part of their survival.”

Since the event is hosted at DMACC, court reporting students are invited to participate as student guides and room monitors. In addition to hearing the veterans’ stories, which have a profound impact on everyone in the room, the students get the opportunity to speak with the seasoned court reporters who are transcribing the interviews.

“I was speaking with the student in my room and explaining how I was adding to my job dictionary based on the conversation the interviewer and the veteran were having prior to the interview starting,” said Burkle. “She had no idea how that worked, and she told me that she thought I was having computer problems because I kept going back to my laptop.”

There is a sense of urgency to interviewing veterans before it’s too late. “Last year, shortly after the histories were taken, a couple of the veterans passed away before the transcripts were even completed,” said Burkle. Fortunately, their stories will live on in the Library of Congress.

Anoka Technical College & Minnesota Association of Verbatim Reporters & Captioners

The Judicial Reporting Program at Anoka Technical College in Minnesota has hosted an annual VHP Day the Saturday before Veterans Day since 2008, interviewing approximately 50 veterans to date. Working closely with the Minnesota Association of Verbatim Reporters & Captioners, the college recruits students to interview the veterans and Minnesotan reporters to write and transcribe the interviews.

The annual event used to be hosted on the college campus, but Anoka Tech has recently taken the event off-site.

“The past couple of years we have taken our team to an assisted living home so we can interview World War II and Korean War veterans who are not as mobile anymore,” said Jennifer Sati, RMR, CRR, CRC, CRI, an NCRA Director and instructor at Anoka Tech. “Most recently, on Nov. 5, Minnesota reporters and students … joined together to help preserve history for 12 wartime veterans at Chandler Place Assisted Living in St. Anthony.” Nine of these veterans served in World War II and three served in the Korean War.

“We make our VHP event more than just interviews,” Sati continues. “We have food, music (an accordion player), decorations, and we invite veterans to return back the following years to enjoy the day and continue building friendships.”

John Pletscher, accompanied by his daughter Chris, is interviewed by Tom Piltoff while Debbie Peterson transcribes

John Pletscher, accompanied by his daughter Chris, is interviewed by Tom Piltoff while Debbie Peterson transcribes.

Tom Piltoff, a court reporting student, served as an interviewer at this year’s event. “It was an extremely humbling experience to be in the presence of such great men and an honor to have been able to hear even a small chapter or two of their stories,” he said.

The participants will remember these stories for years to come. One memorable veteran is Larry Tillemans.

“He lived in a small town outside of the Twin Cities,” said Sati. “One of the students who worked as a waitress in a small café he frequented mentioned that her school hosts VHP Days. He was interested! As it turns out, Mr. Tillemans was a typist with the Third Army in Munich, Germany (1945-1946). He was assigned by the Army to type transcripts at the Nuremberg War Crime Trials and the Dachau Tribunal. Throughout the 218 days Mr. Tillemans spent in Germany, he witnessed over 350 Nazis and victims of the Holocaust give their testimony. Mr. Tillemans personally typed over 200,000 affidavits. He shares his experience with as many people as he could. He is adamant people hear actual accounts from people who were present when history was being made.”

Lake County, Ill., Veterans History Project

The Lake County Courthouse in Waukegan, Ill., has hosted its annual VHP Day for the past five years on Veterans Day.

“Our VHP event would never have happened if it hadn’t been for my colleague, Vernita Allen-Williams (our current ILCRA president),” said Deborah Cohen-Rojas, RPR, an official from Lake County, Ill., one of the event’s organizers. Allen-Williams, RMR, an official from Waukegan, Ill., is the current president for the Illinois Court Reporters Association. “[She] had read about the project and mentioned it to our then-chief judge, Fred Foreman, and, upon his retirement, support for the project was continued by our next chief judge, John Phillips, who is also a veteran,” Cohen-Rojas continued. “Both Judge Foreman and Judge Phillips are retired now, but they remain strong supporters of the project, and they both volunteered at this year’s event.” According to Cohen-Rojas, Allen-Williams and Colleen Eitermann, an official, from Deerfield, Ill., coordinated the first event and began “what has become a proud tradition at our courthouse.”

This event has grown exponentially over the past five years, from nine veterans the first year to a record 35 veterans this year, bringing their five-year total up to 134 veterans interviewed.

“The first year we did the VHP,” says Cohen-Rojas, “we put out pastries and fruit and coffee, and we had the opening ceremony in one of our courtrooms. Then, as more people participated each year, more people wanted to be involved and more ideas started to surface. The Young Marines, in addition to helping serve the veterans and their families breakfast, also help out as escorts for disabled veterans. Last year we had challenge coins made for the veterans with all of the branches of the military represented on them. We started sending the veterans packages after the interviews with copies of their interview transcripts, framed certificates, thank-you letters, and photos from the event. Representatives from organizations like the Honor Flight and the Daughters of the American Revolution got involved, as well. It has really been an honor to watch this event grow and evolve. My favorite part is hearing afterward from volunteers that the experience has changed them and that they want to volunteer again not just for the next year, but for every year after that!”

The entire community backs the annual event. The Lake County Bar Association supplies interviewers and escorts for the veterans, and contributes financially to support the event.

“State’s attorneys, public defenders, and private practitioners participate, as well as several retired judges,” adds Cohen-Rojas. “The Marines volunteer time and food for the fantastic breakfast served to the veterans and their families. The staff at the 19th Circuit café volunteer their time in helping to serve breakfast, as well.”

Of course, the event wouldn’t be complete without the court reporters.

“The court reporters are really superstars. Several of the 19th Circuit’s reporters participate, and we have freelancers and other officials who come from all over the state as well as several from other states,” said Cohen-Rojas. “I talked to at least three reporters this year who had come from so far away that they got hotel rooms and traveled in the day before the event. These reporters happily sacrifice their time off and, in the case of freelancers, personal expense to be a part of this event. I really can’t say enough about them.”

For more information on how you can interview a veteran in your community, or host your own VHP Day, visit NCRA.org/NCRF or contact NCRF’s Foundation Manager, April Weiner, aweiner@ncra.org.

Court reporting students host Veterans History Project

The Newton Daily Njcr-publications_high-resews posted an article on Nov. 11 about a Veterans History Project event held at the Des Moines Area (Iowa) Community College that was hosted by students from its court reporting program. Members from the Iowa Court Reporters Association interviewed 12 veterans during the event in honor of Veterans Day.

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Local court reporters participate in first school mock trial competition since 2008

JCR publications share buttonThe Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, reported on Oct. 28 that the state’s Middle School Mock Trial regional competition, featuring volunteer court reporters, was held recently at the Linn County Courthouse for the first time since a 2008 flood. The competition is the largest of its kind in the nation.

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NCRA member’s good deed noted in local paper

JCRiconThe Des Moines Register reported on May 19 that NCRA member Jane Fitzgerald, RMR, an official court reporter from Pleasant Hill, Iowa, served as one of this year’s volunteers for the National Court Reporting Foundation’s phone-a-thon. Fitzgerald, who also serves as a NCRF Trustee, helped raise more than $35,500 in donations that will be used to fund many of the philanthropic organization’s programs. The brief was generated by a press release issued by NCRA.

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Personnel cuts would not allow courts to work

Walter Braud of the 14th Judicial Circuit, Rock Island County [Illinois], addressed officials about a proposed budget that would entail a possible 116 layoffs, according to a May 12 article in the Quad-City Times [Iowa]. Calling the situation a near tragedy, Braud later told reporters: “I’m required by law to have a good and proper courthouse. In each courtroom, there has to be a court reporter to record the proceedings, a clerk to maintain the court records, and there have to be armed deputies.”

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