Coash & Coash announce recipient of first annual court reporting scholarship

JCR: Journal of Court Reporting, TheJCR.com, JCR WeeklyOn July 17, Coash & Coash, Phoenix, Ariz., posted a story on its website announcing that Jordan Jackson of the GateWay Community College court reporting program has been awarded the first annual $1,000 Coash & Coash court reporting scholarship.

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NCRA announces the winners of the 2017 CASE scholarships

Lisa Erickson

Lisa Erickson

The Council on Approved Student Education (CASE) has selected Lisa Erickson, a student at Prince Institute in Elmhurst, Ill., as the first-place winner of the 2017 CASE Scholarship. Maggie DeRocher, of Des Moines Area Community College in Newton, Ia., earned second place, and Meredith Seymour of Lakeshore Technical College in Cleveland, Wis. earned third place. The first-place winner will receive $1,500; second place, $1,000; and third place, $500.

“Words fail to adequately express just how blessed I am to have received this award,” says Erickson. “As a double-duty parent, so many odds are constantly stacked against me. What this means to me is a bright start to the future I dream for my family. Thank you to all who helped make this possible.”

“I’m so honored to be a recipient of the CASE scholarship,” DeRocher tells Up-to-Speed. “It’s great motivation to continue to constantly learn and grow in this great profession.”

Meredith Seymour, who has worked as an American Sign Language interpreter, says she is “humbled and thankful to be granted this scholarship, yet also honored to be given this opportunity to spread awareness on behalf of the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community.”

maggie derocher_cropped

Maggie DeRocher

As part of the application process, students submitted an original essay on the topic “Describe what the professions of court reporting and captioning are like today from your perspective. What do you think those professions will be like in the next ten years?”

All three winning essays focused on the growing demand for reporters and captioners as well as a positive outlook for the future. “I conclude that in ten years and beyond,” Erickson writes, “this remarkable field will continue to turn heads and strengthen the backbone of the community.” Erickson’s instructors rated her as “exceptional” and used words such as “stupendous,” “persistent,” and “committed” to describe her.

Meredith Seymour

Meredith Seymour

Another common theme among the essays was the effect that technology will play in the future of the court reporting and captioning professions. Seymour points out the shortcomings of digital audio recordings in courtroom settings: “Although once thought as a convenient and inexpensive route, [technology] has been continuing to prove how inadequate and untrustworthy it is a reporting device for the court system.”

DeRocher, on the other hand, sees social media as a way to share information within the community: “There is camaraderie, punctuation and grammar advice, suggestions how to handle different situations that arise in the profession, discussions of the newest technologies, and everything in between.”

Applicants were also required to be current students at an NCRA-approved court reporting program, hold student membership with NCRA, write between 140-180 wpm, and submit three recommendation forms, among other criteria.

Scholarship recipients will be formally announced at the 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo in Las Vegas, Nev. Visit the Student Resources page for more information about the CASE Scholarship and other scholarship opportunities.

Always go the extra mile — it’s never crowded up there

Runners wearing athletic apparal in a race down a narrow paved road with grass on either side

U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Alexy Saltekoff

Practicing, staying motivated, meeting target speeds. Networking, handing out résumés, taking skills tests. Court reporting students have a lot on their minds. And getting ready to graduate adds another whole dimension to school life. Students reflect on the challenges they are leaving behind and look forward to the opportunities that lie ahead.

Attending a court reporting program can sometimes be a lonely road, but students find the camaraderie of their classmates to be a good source of motivation. “The most difficult thing about being in school,” explains Sara Simoni, a student at Bryan University in Tempe, Ariz., “is that the people in your circle don’t quite understand what you’re going through. Even though you may explain what it’s like time and time again, they will never quite understand.” Perhaps friends and family may not be able to relate, but nearly 40 percent of students answering a poll in April’s issue of Up-to-Speed reported that their court reporting classmates are “a great source of inspiration.”

Ask just about any court reporting student what his or her biggest hurdle in school is and the answer is usually speed plateaus. Most students also agree on the way to overcome that hurdle: Put in more practice time. Students differ on the details, however. “Maybe instead of writing at only 20 wpm above my goal speed for 5+ minutes, I do short bursts of 40 or 60 wpm over,” says Lauren Mancusi, a student at the College of Court Reporting in Valparaiso, Ind.

Simoni takes the opposite approach. “I would take a one-minute exercise and work it 20 wpm below my target speed … then bump it up in increments of 10 all the way up to 20 wpm above my target speed.’

Of course, there is more to staying motivated than just getting over speed plateaus. “The best tip for getting though school is to forget the bad days,” suggests Celeste Poppe, a recent graduate from Bryan University. “Cry for only an hour, and move on and keep going. It’s hard not to get swallowed up by the ‘I’m not getting it’ or ‘I’m stuck’ feelings, but you just have to keep your eyes on what’s in front of you and keep on stenoing.”

Simoni also says to focus on the positive. “The best tip for surviving school is to remember to reward yourself for even the smallest accomplishment. With all the tests you will fail during your court reporting school journey, you have to take time to celebrate even the smallest achievements.”

Focusing on the positive also means looking to the future. One of the best ways to get a jumpstart on a career is to start earning certifications, like the Registered Professional Reporter (RPR) or the Certified Shorthand Reporter (CSR), while still in school. The experience of regular testing, in addition to the wide range of resources available in the school environment, makes this the perfect time to take those tests. “I am currently a licensed California CSR and working as a freelance deposition reporter. I also obtained my RPR during the time I was waiting for my CA CSR results, having passed each leg on the first time starting with the 225 leg and ending with the Written Knowledge Test leg,” said Poppe. Simoni found her internship to be an invaluable experience in preparing for her certification. “I loved interning. I had friends who were officials at my local courthouse. They couldn’t wait for me to start my interning journey, and they placed me right in on a jury trial. It definitely uplifted my confidence as well. I remember passing one of my last 225 tests right after interning.” She is planning to begin her RPR testing as soon as possible.

Those last few months of school are also the best time to search for a job. Students suggest getting out of the classroom and into the courtroom. “I am currently job hunting!” Simoni announces. “I am handing out résumés, and I am sitting in court with my friends who are officials. I’m working on my professional wardrobe and trying to gather all the necessary things to help me succeed as a new reporter. I know networking is huge in our industry, and I can’t help but be overly excited to hand out my new business cards!” Mancusi and Poppe also recommend attending state association conventions and seminars as a way to network with working reporters who can connect them with jobs.

For some students, the last piece of the puzzle is graduating from court reporting school. Every student takes a different path through the wickets of dictation, speed tests, internships, and graduation requirements. Often, the trickiest thing about graduating may actually be the timing. “To me,” admits Mancusi, “the hardest part of being in school is trying to explain to others why I don’t know my exact graduation date.” When Up-to-Speed polled readers about how important it is for them to graduate from court reporting school quickly, about 34 percent replied that they had people depending on them to graduate as soon as possible. But an almost equal number responded that they had “set a goal to graduate by a certain date, but things may change.” The remaining students were split almost evenly between a determination to graduate by a certain date “no matter what” and the more laid-back approach of “I’m in no rush. It will come when it comes.” Lauren Mancusi is firmly in the “no matter what” camp: “A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.”

How to make a smooth transition from student to reporter

new professionalBy Jacqueline Timmons

I have trained many new reporters over the years, so I have had a firsthand view of the transition from student to working reporter. I gained much insight as I was training and mentoring these new reporters, and this is my advice on what students should know as they prepare to start their careers in reporting.

Tip No. 1 Ensure that your equipment is properly maintained so it is not too loud or making noise when you are writing in the courtroom. If you buy new equipment and software right after graduation, make sure you know your machine and software before going to your first assignment. You don’t want the bad experience of walking into a room filled with attorneys and not knowing how to set up your equipment. There is a natural tendency to panic when all eyes are on you. Practice setting up your equipment before your first assignment.

Tip No. 2: If your software program has audio, do not rely solely on it for your transcript. It is a great tool as a backup, but remember, you may have to read back a question or an answer. If the audio fails, it might be that the microphone was not turned on or was not plugged in correctly or there was background noise that distorted the recording. With or without the audio, you will have to produce the transcript.

Tip No. 3: Make sure you know the appropriate oaths for swearing in witnesses and translators. Practice saying the oaths before you go to your first deposition. Make a note card with the oaths on it to keep in your briefcase so you can review them before the deposition starts. Once you get used to reciting them, they will become second nature. In fact, you may have to make sure you don’t say the oath so fast that the witness misunderstands the words. Occasionally, an attorney may state something for the record first and then ask you to swear in the witness. If an attorney starts questioning and forgets to have the witness sworn, interrupt and ask if he or she would like to have the witness sworn in.

Tip No. 4: You will find that not all witnesses speak in complete sentences, which makes it difficult to punctuate. If a witness pauses in his or her answer, it may not necessarily mean that a comma belongs in that space. The witness may just be thinking about how to phrase the answer or may be ready to change his or her thought altogether, in which case you need to place a dash.

Tip No. 5: Probably the most difficult barrier to overcome is learning to interrupt. But remember, if you cannot hear the witness, mostly likely the lawyers are having the same problem. They will invariably ask you to read testimony back. If you are having difficulty hearing, ask the witness to repeat an answer or to speak more loudly or more clearly.

Tip No. 6: If possible, when reading back on the job, read the question or answer to yourself first before you read it aloud. This may save you from stumbling over a new word, a steno outline, or a mistranslate.

Tip No. 7: Another early lesson to learn is that your working experience will not be like dictation in class; it will not be five minutes at a particular speed. It will vary all throughout the day, depending on who is speaking. The lawyer may be slow and the witness fast, or vice versa.

Tip No 8: You may also be writing for two-hour stints without a break, so you may get tired at first. Writing an all-day deposition or all-day trial certainly can wear you out, especially when you first start reporting. Don’t get discouraged. Once you get used to sustained writing, it becomes much easier.

Tip No. 9: Because you don’t know what the day holds, be sure to eat a full breakfast. You never know if you will get a lunch break, and if you do, it may be a short one. Hopefully, you’ll be asked if you would like to break or you will have the opportunity to ask for a break, but it doesn’t always happen. Sometimes the need for a faster deposition means starting at 9 a.m. and going straight through to 2 p.m. with no lunch break. I have had that happen, and I find in those cases, I was very happy I ate breakfast. If you are not a breakfast person, keep a snack bar or something you can eat at a break.

Tip No. 10: When I started reporting, I acquired reference books, which were tremendously helpful. That was before computers and the internet. Make Google, or whatever search engine you use, your friend. When editing, use it. If you are not sure of something, look it up. For example, I was editing a job and it sounded like the witness said he had an Audi 88. Not being familiar with that car, I Googled it just to be sure. It turned out it was an Audi A8. Don’t be afraid to ask fellow reporters during a break if you need a spelling or clarification, or if you are unsure of a term. We are always willing to help each other.

I hope I have provided some helpful tips to guide you in the transition from student to reporter. And here is just one more: Don’t get discouraged if your first reporting assignment doesn’t leave you with a warm, fuzzy feeling. I have been reporting for over 35 years, and I still love it. That doesn’t mean I haven’t had some difficult assignments that have left me wanting to cry. But those unfavorable experiences didn’t ruin it for the other assignments — ones that have left me feeling that I chose a very rewarding career.

Jacqueline Timmons, FAPR, RDR, is a freelance reporter in Darien, Ill. She can be reached at jmtcsr@cs.com.

Making a few adjustments

A smiling young adult woman, dressed cassually, sits on a floral couch with a golden retriever at her side.

Kayde Rieken with her seeing-eye dog, Fawn

Long nights of practice and endless speed tests are familiar challenges for court reporting students. But Kayde Rieken, a student at the College of Court Reporting in Valparaiso, Ind., has experienced one that is unique. She was the first student to take the RPR Written Knowledge Test (WKT) in Braille. With her new career, she hopes to make a difference in the lives of other people who are disabled.

  1. What made you decide to go into court reporting?

I have always been an avid reader, and I enjoy expanding my vocabulary. I am also fascinated by technology and the impact it can have on the lives of disabled people such as myself. When I found out that court reporting was a profession that combined these two interests, I was sure I had found where I belonged.

  1. Can you talk a little about your background? Did you start the program straight out of high school or did you have another career first?

I was about three-quarters through a bachelor’s degree in Spanish translation when I discovered that it just didn’t feel right for me anymore. Court reporting was one of the things I listed as an interest when I was debating career choices in high school, so I decided to do more research on it. It was a very hard and frightening decision, but I chose not to finish the degree I had begun and start my court reporting education. I have, of course, not regretted it for a moment.

  1. Have you had any special accommodations for classes or testing throughout your court reporting program?

I have not needed many accommodations. Court reporting students are often told during the first few weeks of theory not to watch their hands as they write. I use an ordinary Windows laptop with a text-to-speech screen reader that converts print into synthetic speech. Another essential component of my setup is an electronic Braille display that works in conjunction with my screen reader to convert print into Braille output. My steno machine has a basic screen-reading program on it, although I only use this when changing settings on the machine itself.

There were a few things in my CAT software class I was not able to do, such as use the autobrief feature because I am not able to see suggestions pop up on the screen as I write. However, my instructor provided me with alternative assignments that we agreed would be beneficial for me to do during that week.

  1. What kinds of challenges, if any, have you faced during your court reporting program?

My challenges were mainly what everyone else faces — being stuck at a speed for a long time or that stroke that you can never seem to stop hesitating on. I never felt that my blindness itself presented a challenge in court reporting, as I gain most of my knowledge of the environment through listening anyway. In past college experiences, I sometimes had problems with professors not believing in my abilities; but all of my teachers at the College of Court Reporting have held me to the same high standards to which they hold all their other students.

  1. Describe your experience taking the WKT.

I was initially a bit apprehensive because I wasn’t sure what accommodations could be made. I was worried that the only thing NCRA would be able to provide was someone to read the questions to me. If you stop and imagine only listening to some of those complicated punctuation questions without a “visual” medium in front of you, I think you can see that would not work. However, the people in charge of testing at NCRA could, and did, provide me with a Braille copy of the WKT. I cannot express how grateful I was for this. Then, with that accommodation taken care of, I had a somewhat typical test-taking process. I read the questions in Braille and had a recorder there to mark down my answers in print for me. I went over the questions twice to make sure everything was marked correctly.

  1. Which tests do you plan to take next?

I plan to take the jury charge portion of my RPR next, as I have passed my two online tests and my jury mentor evaluation.

  1. What types of challenges do you anticipate in your career ahead?

I am the kind of person who tries to meet challenges as they come. I can anticipate that the marking of exhibits could be something I may need assistance with, but I don’t see that as being much of a problem. I am glad to know, however, that I have several mentors, blind and sighted, within this profession to answer any questions I may have.

  1. Do you have any advice for people who are blind or visually impaired who are considering a career in court reporting?

As I mentioned earlier, I think Braille is a very important component to this profession for a blind person; so make sure your Braille skills are solid. Also — and this applies to any student — it is important to do your research and find places where you can network and foster mentoring relationships. I had the opportunity to go to the NCRA Convention & Expo in Chicago last year, and it was one of the most overwhelming and exciting experiences of my life; so don’t be afraid to embrace experiences that might be a little scary for you. They are nearly always worth it.

A free pen? How about Las Vegas swag?

A smiling woman sits in front of a pile of black backpacksStudents attending the 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo in Las Vegas, Nev., are in for a treat. Firm owners have come together to donate some exciting swag. Doreen Sutton, FAPR, RPR, Chair of NCRA’s Student Committee, has been hard at work collecting donations. Sutton tells Up-to-Speed, “There are all sorts of fun goodies in the bag that I hope the students will have fun with.” (You might even find a pen in there!)

Attending a national convention is often the highlight of a student’s educational career. It provides not only an invaluable learning experience, but also an unparalleled opportunity for networking. “When I was a student,” recalls Sutton, “just the privilege of speaking to a reporter or going to lunch was memorable.” And being able to leave the conference with a souvenir, something tangible, is priceless.

Various-sized boxes on a table, each filled with a different small item such as coozies, lanyards, and chocolatesThe Student Committee has firm owners to thank for those souvenirs. The committee sent out emails requesting donations, and the response was swift and generous. “The swag items are a wonderful combination and filled up our amazing bags, also donated,” says Sutton. “The bags themselves are awesome and will be great for future uses.” Students lucky enough to attend the conference will head home with fond memories, a few more contacts, and some special souvenirs!

NCRA and the Student Committee would like to thank the following donors for their contributions to this year’s student swag bags:

  • AWR & Associates
  • Canyon State Reporting
  • Chris Willette, RDR, CRR, CRC
  • CRC Salomon
  • Debbie Dibble, RDR, CRR, CRC
  • Doreen Sutton, FAPR, RPR
  • Doris O. Wong & Associates
  • LNS Court Reporting
  • Marjorie Peters, RMR, CRR
  • Orange Legal
  • Paradigm Reporting
  • Phipps Reporting
  • Pittman Stenography
  • Planet Depos
  • Schmitt Reporting
  • Sousa Court Reporters
  • The Varallo Group
  • Tiva Wood, FAPR, RDR, CMRS
  • Toby Feldman
  • U.S. Legal Support

Court reporting students attend FDCC Deposition Boot Camp for real-life experience training

JCR: Journal of Court Reporting, TheJCR.com, JCR WeeklyOn June 13, MacCormac College students Alyssa Rufus, Rachel Wolfe, Robyn Falasz, and Shannon Dovgin attended the Deposition Boot Camp hosted by the Federation of Defense and Corporate Counsel. The Boot Camp consisted of several mock depositions so court reporting students and law students could gain hands-on experience.

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NCRA members shares their role in judicial system with homeschool students

JCR logoNCRA members Cyndi Larimer and Mindie Baab recently explained their jobs as official court reporters as part of a mock trial that a handful of National Home School students participated in. The mock trial was included in an article posted by the Claremore Daily Progress, Claremore, Okla., on March 31.

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NCRF announces 2017 Robert H. Clark Scholarship and New Professional Reporter Grant recipients

The National Court Reporters Foundation (NCRF) has announced that Valerie Melkus, RPR, Charleston, S.C., was named recipient of the 2017 New Professional Reporter Grant. The Foundation also announced that Laurel Stalnaker, a student from Sumner College in Portland, Ore., is the recipient of the 2017 Robert H. Clark Scholarship.

“I am honored and thrilled to be the recipient of the New Professional Reporter Grant, though I’m certain that every person who applied is just as deserving. Starting out as a new reporter is tough. Anyone who’s made it this far has been working his or her behind off,” said Melkus. “I’ve been using an old, noisy, slow, refurbished laptop for work. This grant will enable me to not only pay my bills, but I will finally be able to get myself a new computer. I am beyond grateful.”

NCRF awards the annual New Professional Reporter Grant to a reporter who is in his or her first year of work, has graduated within a year from an NCRA-approved court reporting program, and meets specific criteria, including a grade point average of 3.5 or above, a letter of recommendation, and active work in any of the career paths of judicial (official/freelance), CART, or captioning. Melkus, a graduate of the College of Court Reporting in Valparaiso, Ind., is the 13th recipient of NCRF’s New Professional Reporter Grant. She was recommended by J. Lynn Clark, RMR, president of Clark & Associates.

“I have been reporting and training new reporters since 1979. Valerie has been the most impressive new reporter I have ever had the pleasure to work with,” Clark wrote in her recommendation. “I feel like I have hit a court reporting home run with [Valerie]. She loves learning new things and implementing them in her writing. Her enthusiasm for court reporting is contagious!”

Laurel Stalnaker

Laurel Stalnaker

The $2,000 Robert H. Clark Scholarship is named for the late Robert H. (Bob) Clark, a court reporter from Los Angeles, Calif., who was dedicated to preserving the history of the profession. Stalnaker is the third recipient of this scholarship.

“I am humbled to have won this scholarship, and I am grateful to have been nominated by my instructor. It will allow me to invest in myself in my new profession,” said Stalnaker. “I have been in school for two years now, and since day one I have been using an older student steno machine. Lately it has been having connectivity issues during class and, even worse, during tests. Recently I have been looking to buy a newer model for reporting professionally since I am only three tests away from graduating, and this scholarship will allow me to start my career on a positive note. I am eager to invest in a newer model and to excel in my last exams before I graduate.”

Students are nominated by instructors or other officials at their schools. To be eligible, nominees must be NCRA members, enrolled in an NCRA-approved court reporting program, have passed at least one of their program’s Q&A tests at 200 words per minute, and possess a GPA of at least 3.5 on a 4.0 scale, among other criteria.

“Laurel has been, from day one, nothing less than a very devoted student. Her attendance has been superb, and her commitment to this program has never once wavered,” said Jacqueline Butler, CRI, who nominated Stalnaker. “She has stayed focused on the end result. I have no doubts whatsoever that she will make a great reporter. She takes her work very seriously and makes sure she learns all she can along the way. It’s wonderful to see her win this award!”

To learn more about NCRF’s scholarships and grants, visit NCRA.org/NCRF/Scholarships.

NCRA Student Committee contest winners featured

JCR logoeNews Park Forest posted an article on April 21 announcing the winners of a contest sponsored by NCRA’s Student Committee in honor of the 2017 Court Reporting & Captioning Week.

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