Access to a master: The value of having a mentor

Man in a suit sitting at a steno machine next to a screenBy Joshua Edwards

Back in 2016 before giving my first speech at my local Toastmasters club, I emailed a draft of my speech to my assigned mentor, Jason. Jason is a seasoned member of our club and has given dozens of speeches over the years. He had developed a keen eye for how to craft an effective speech. Jason redlined through several paragraphs of my speech and typed a note about getting right to the point. I accepted his input and rewrote the speech. Had I not worked with a mentor and done it on my own, I would probably have droned on and on about things that are interesting to just one person — me — and barreled through the four- to six-minute time limit.

In the field of court reporting, I am a mentor to several students through both NCRA and the New York State Court Reporters Association. I try to give them the same beneficial insight in reporting as Jason gave me in Toastmasters: to avoid pitfalls, discover best practice habits, and stay disciplined and focused. I’ve heard anecdotes of students spending precious time in useless practice habits like sitting in front of a television and writing the news while the writer is turned off. (How do you know what you are writing?) A student may think that is effective practicing, but without the feedback of either paper notes or a realtime display, it is just a vain exercise.

All of us know how hard court reporting is. In fact, speedbuilding can be just as nerve-racking as public speaking. We can all empathize with the student who has been stuck at a particular speed for what feels like eons and the bitter disappointment of failing that speed test week after week. That student may be just one more failed test away from jumping ship and abandoning a significant investment of time and money. The difference between walking away in frustration and becoming a successful court reporter often hinges on wise input from a mentor.

Mentors guide students, and they offer encouragement and practical advice based on personal experience. When a student works with a mentor, that student has prime access to an individual who has mastered the craft of court reporting and worked in the field long enough to know a thing or two. A well-qualified mentor has operated in a wide variety of settings and has faced and survived both the tedious routine and the exciting challenges that can happen in the course of a court reporter’s day. Think of a young voice student who had the chance to work with the legendary opera singer Luciano Pavarotti. Pavarotti had a passion for singing and for encouraging young singers to refine their craft. He not only performed in major opera houses across the globe, but he coached many voice students as well.

Whether a reporting student needs help, an occasional pep talk, or a serious high-voltage motivational speech, the mentor is willing to commit the time and to be responsive to the student’s needs. It goes without saying that the student must be equally committed and willing to put in his or her due time and effort. Remember this is a volunteer effort. Time is valuable to us all, and being a mentor means being willing to give some of that precious time for free. Likewise, the student needs to respect the time and energy given by the mentor for his or her benefit.

I have a mentee* who occasionally sends me her transcribed assignments to look at the punctuation. While reviewing a jury charge, she had put in so many underscores denoting drops that I had to stop marking the grammar. Instead, I wrote a note in red ink: “It is critically important that you practice at a speed you can actually get down.” Her practice habits were not going to yield much success if she continued practicing at too-high speeds, dropping too many words, and trying to learn punctuation from incomplete passages.

*(Yes, mentee is a real dictionary word. Be sure to define it so you don’t get minty, men tea, men tee, or heaven forbid, meanty.)

Communication is key for a mentoring relationship to be successful, whether it happens by email, phone, text, video conference, or in person, if possible. Each week I send an email to a list of more than 90 students and working reporters. The email may cover anything related to the field. After coming back from NCRA’s Convention in Las Vegas, I wrote a lengthy piece summarizing my experiences there. Being a mentor means sharing your professional expertise to help a student reach his or her goals. Being a mentee means receiving valuable tutelage, for free, from a pro who has already been there. So go ahead and sign up. Your future may well depend on it!

Joshua Edwards, RDR, CRR, is a captioner in New York, N.Y. He can be reached at joshua@jbreporting.com.

Convention conversations

This year, students attending the 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo in Las Vegas, Nev., were treated to a range of different seminars aimed at preparing them for testing, contests, and the real world beyond graduation. Up-to-Speed asked attendees for feedback on the student experience and they shared their highlights of the Convention.

Group photo of students and the NCRA Board of Directors posed with enthusiasm

Students pose with the NCRA Board of Directors after a special meet and greet

The opportunity to network was one of the benefits students mentioned most. “The Convention was very motivational for me,” said Hailey Treasure, a student at MacCormac College in Chicago, Ill. “It was awesome to see how excited all the working reporters were to meet students and to hear them talking about what a good career reporting is and how much they love it after all these years. It was also nice to hear all the tips they had to share for practicing speed.” Meeting other reporters at the Convention was an especially useful opportunity for online students.

When asked to share her best takeaway from the Convention, Lindsay Pepe, who studies with online program SimplySteno, answered, “So many things! Being an online student, I don’t get a lot of interaction with other reporting students or actual reporters, so it was such a great experience being surrounded by them.” Brianna Carpenter, also with SimplySteno, agreed: “I enjoyed the opportunity to be around reporters because being a student is very isolating with schools switching to an online environment.”

Attending the social events such as the Awards Luncheon and the “Only New Once” Reception was also a great way to meet and talk with other working reporters. At the reception, first-time attendees shared drinks with the NCRA Board of Directors and the NCRF Board of Trustees. “They were so welcoming and encouraging,” Pepe commented.

A large luncheon in a hotel ballroom with people seated at round tables; in the background is the logo for the 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo

Students from MacCormac mingle during the Awards Luncheon

Of course, networking is just one reason students come to the Convention. Another is to attend the student seminars and learn from the best. Speed dating has become a favorite way to meet people, and the “Steno Speed Dating” session proved no less popular. “It was an awesome way to meet working reporters,” said Treasure, “and to ask all the questions you have about their particular area of reporting.” In this seminar, students sat around 10 tables while professional court reporters, CART captioners, and broadcast captioners rotated from table to table every fifteen minutes so that all students had an opportunity to ask each of them questions. Unfortunately, a power outage at Planet Hollywood (along with Paris and Bally’s) shortened the time for speed dating, but the presenters and moderator Shaunise Day, a student at West Valley College in Saratoga, Calif., moved the session along and got everyone back up to speed.

The presenters were:

  • Dee Boenau, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC
  • Jo Ann Bryce, RMR, CRR
  • Linda Christensen, RMR, CRR, CRC
  • Rich Germosen, RMR, CRR
  • Cheryl Haab, RPR
  • Melanie Humphrey-Sonntag, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC
  • Stanley Sakai, CRC
  • Jennifer Schuck, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC
  • Joe Strickland, RPR, CRR, CRC
  • Doug Zweizig, RDR, CRR

Ashley Hurd, of the Long Island Business Institute in Commack, N.Y., gave the speed-dating session a good review: “This seminar provided excellent tips and advice from professional reporters in different areas. Knowing these reporters were once in my shoes as students gives me hope that I can be successful like they are.” The fast pace of the format kept the questions flowing and the reporters on their feet.

A young woman and a young man stand next to each other smiling

Shaunise Day and Stan Sakai pose after the steno speed dating session (photo from Stan Sakai)

Another dynamic session that garnered a lot of attention was “Business of Being a Court Reporter.” Presenters Michael Hensley, RPR; Charisse Kitt, RMR, CRI; Katherine Schilling, RPR; and Jessica Waack, RDR, CRR; demonstrated real-world scenarios in a mock setting to show students the ins and outs of what it’s like on an actual job. The idea was to expose students to the kinds of situations they probably don’t encounter inside the classroom.

For Hurd, this session was a way to extend her learning beyond her coursework. “As a visual learner, having this segment for representation was exciting,” Hurd said. “I was able to see how everything I’ve learned in school came to life.” She added that students often question what are “the proper, respectful, and professional ways to interject as a court reporter,” but this session “answered every doubt in a student’s mind.” Presenters also demonstrated the preferred way to conduct oneself around attorneys, witnesses, and judges.

For Amy Flaherty, of GateWay Community College in Phoenix, Ariz., this was her favorite session: “It really covered the basics in an entertaining way. Having the panel be so diverse was incredibly helpful. The panel members were down to earth and informative.” Pepe agreed. “Really fun and educational session,” she said. “It was great getting the opinions on how each individual would handle the hypothetical situations. Probably one of my favorite sessions at the Convention!” Interactive sessions like this one infused an element of entertainment and kept the students engaged.

What would students like to see more of in 2018? Hurd, the student from Long Island Business Institute, is concerned about scheduling her sessions around her class time and wants to try to avoid any overlap. Pepe, from SimplySteno, would like more time to visit with vendors in the Expo Hall. And Whitney Berndt, a student at Lakeshore Technical College in Cleveland, Wis. is thinking even farther ahead. “I would have appreciated an opportunity to discuss the future of court reporting schools, education, and testing to hear how NCRA is dealing with the lack of new reporters and how to get more students out of school.” Berndt will get an opportunity to share her ideas over the coming year as a member of NCRA’s Student/Teacher Committee.

Read all the news from the 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo.

A broadcast captioner sees the future in realtime

A woman sits in front of a steno machine, set up to work from home. On her desk is her laptop and paper notes propped up for easy viewing. On the wall is a television screen with a news show.By Cathy Penniston

I live in Iowa, but I make my living listening to the Canadian news. I work for The Captioning Group, Inc., based in Calgary, Alberta, as a remote broadcast captioner four days a week. But every Thursday, I take a break from the news and travel to Newton, Iowa, to teach court reporting students at the Des Moines Area Community College. My goal is to share my wealth of experience with my students. I have worked as an official shorthand reporter, a freelance reporter, a CART captioner, and a broadcast captioner, and I bring this real-world experience to my classes.

As a busy broadcast television captioner and an instructor of court reporting students, I encourage my students to embrace realtime. If my students comment that it is difficult to learn realtime, I remind them that when I went to court reporting school, there were manual Stenograph machines and typewriters. Long vowels? That would be taken care of when reporters sat down at the typewriter to type each page into English from their paper shorthand notes. Nowadays, this is all done instantaneously through high-tech machines.

But more so, I believe that realtime is vital to the continued successful future of the court reporting profession. A digital recording in a courtroom cannot accurately provide a real-time speech-to-text feed of the live proceedings to the judge. And a digital recording cannot provide live captions of breaking news or emergency information broadcast over television stations where realtime captions are needed to save lives.

At first, realtime stenography can seem quite daunting. But excellent instructors and programs can get students on the path to achieving their goals and becoming successful in the field of realtime captioning. Here are seven tips from a broadcast captioner and court reporting instructor to get started on your journey to learning realtime.

  1. Enjoy realtime and the great feeling of success when steno words translate into English correctly. Do not be afraid of realtime.
  2. Analyze and correct every word that does not translate from steno to English correctly. There is a reason for every untranslated word. Why did that word not translate? What can you do to correct that word to make it translate properly for your next transcript? Do not ignore untranslates!
  3. Know your dictionary and how words are going to translate with your dictionary. Finger combinations that work well for one student may not work well for another student. Try the suggested way to write the word. If the finger combination does not work for you, try writing it in a way that will translate for you. Define the word in your dictionary that way and write it down. Practice that word until you have memorized it.
  4. Briefs are good only if you memorize them and remember them quickly. A bad brief is worse than no brief at all. Your goal is a good realtime translation.
  5. Write out every word and add it to your dictionary for the time when you forget your brief. Do not hesitate to remember briefs.
  6. Your goal is great realtime translations, not winning a race for having the most briefs and then hesitating during speed tests trying to remember those briefs. Briefs can be your best friend or your enemy in realtime reporting.
  7. Back up your dictionary every week. Email a copy of your dictionary to yourself and back it up in the cloud.

Realtime reporting is the key to the future of our profession. Embrace realtime as you strive to achieve your goal of graduation from school.

After working for many years as an official shorthand reporter in the State of Iowa, Cathy Penniston, RPR, CRI, CSR, “retired” to pursue her dream of completing her master’s degree in teaching and working as a remote television broadcast captioner and teacher. She can be reached at cpenniston@gmail.com. This article was originally published, in a slightly different format, on the blog for The Captioning Group as “7 Things Your Instructor Wants You to Know About Realtime Writing!”

Striking a different key, and hitting a new note

A young woman sits in front of a steno machine poised as ready to write. Her laptop is open on the table in front of her.Brittaney Byers, of Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) in Parma, Ohio, has been working at the keys since she was 4 years old, practicing her drills and improving her finger dexterity. Before starting at Tri-C, she had been trained by some of the best at Cleveland State University. But Byers isn’t a lifelong stenographer; she’s a pianist who went searching for a different tune.

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?

When I came out of high school, I was originally aiming for a career in music therapy. However, that didn’t work out. I ended up studying at Cuyahoga Community College after leaving my previous university, originally for a degree in liberal arts, and then switching to the court reporting and captioning program.

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

When I was studying at Tri-C, I was kind of unsure about what I should focus on studying while I was there, and I was looking for a career that would allow flexibility in my schedule and a lot of typing, which I enjoyed. (At the time, I had no idea that writing on a steno machine was any different than writing on a QWERTY keyboard.) I happened to be looking at television one day, saw the captions running across the bottom of the screen, and thought, “I wonder who does that, and I wonder if I could do that.” I looked up stenography and found out there was a court reporting and captioning program at the school I was already currently attending! I just decided to go for it!

How does being a pianist translate into stenography? What about it makes it easier (or harder) to write?  

I think I’m better able to learn briefs and finger combinations than I would be if I didn’t study piano. I also think I’m at a better place with my finger dexterity. However, the thing that helps the most is not from a writing perspective. Studying piano in school was very similar to studying stenography. Most of the things that my professors ask me to do now are the same as what my music professors asked me to do. Things like keeping a practice journal, reading back (or listening to myself) for feedback, using a metronome, isolating problem areas, and many other practice techniques are all things that I was introduced to (and continue to learn and work on now) while I was studying piano.

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

The more I learn about this field, the more I realize how critical good organizational skills are to a successful court reporter. This is definitely something that I am still working on and will probably be working on for a very long time to improve. I can only imagine how much it takes to keep your schedule together for jobs (especially if you work with more than one agency), organize taxes and other financial things, and keep the rest of your life in order.

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

My biggest challenge is trying to find a healthy balance between work, school, and life. I am currently working full time, which is not something I was doing when I was studying music, so trying to find the correct balance between earning enough income and having enough time and energy to practice is something that I am working to perfect.

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

I’ve been hearing this piece of advice in different forms and different places recently, but it still rings true. The biggest battle you have to fight will be with yourself. I have to continuously believe that I can do it. The speed is not going to be my biggest problem; it’s going to be my mindset. I have to battle myself to get on the machine after a long day of work, to stay encouraged after a bad test, or to do just five more minutes of writing when I feel I can’t anymore. I know if I can win the battle within myself and develop a positive mindset, and continue to improve my discipline, I will be able to succeed, no matter what.

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?

I would let them know that if they wanted a career that would grant them a lot of flexibility and a high earning potential, they should join the court reporting field! We need more new faces! Of course, I would let them know that learning stenography and getting up to speed require a lot of discipline, but for the people who stick it through, there is great reward. I would tell them about the amazing experience I’ve had here at Tri-C and the awesome and supportive staff I’ve had the pleasure of working with. They will really do their part to make sure you have the best chance at success.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

In five years, I hope to have passed the RPR Exam, and to have finished the court reporting and captioning program at Tri-C. I really want to go out to southern California and work there either doing freelance work or CART.

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.”

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.

Things to learn, people to meet: Navigating the NCRA Convention & Expo as a student

Three smiling female students at the NCRA Convention & ExpoCourt reporting students agree: Meeting new people and learning new things are the best reasons to attend a conference like the NCRA Convention & Expo. Students who have attended one of the past Conventions share their advice for making the most out of the experience, just in time for the 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo, Aug. 10-13, at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, Nev.

Network, network, network

Without a doubt, networking is one of the top reasons to attend a convention, and the Convention atmosphere itself helps. “Conventions are just a lot of fun. Reporters have a great time when they’re all together,” says Sarah Hamilton, a student at the College of Court Reporting in Valparaiso, Ind.

The NCRA Convention & Expo is the largest gathering of court reporters and captioners in the country, so students have a good chance of meeting a wide range of working professionals, including people students may already be familiar with. “It’s great to put a face to a name,” said Hamilton.

“I’ve met people who’ve really made me feel lucky, and that I’ve chosen the right field,” said Kristina Carmody, a student at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, Ohio. Carmody mentioned a few examples of working reporters who have helped her with advice: “Steve Zinone, RPR, is the most humble, easiest person to talk to. He not only motivated me to continue the hard work, but he reminded of all the success we can really achieve if we continue to work for it. He is unbelievably positive and so nice.” She also mentioned Sue Terry, RPR, CRR. “She has advice and experience in every avenue, and she’s been so generous and sweet to me. She has told me how to keep pushing through doubts and given great pointers to practice.”

Networking can be intimidating, but court reporting students have found a few strategies to help. Larona Cooper, a student at MacCormac College in Chicago, Ill., suggests being proactive and introducing yourself to other court reporters. She also suggests “preparing a couple of questions in advance to ask other court reporters to assist you in your career choice” as an icebreaker.

Katelyn Van Slycke, a student at San Antonio College in San Antonio, Texas, says, “Find a working reporter and tag along with them. Have someone who will invite you to sit with them or go out on the town with them. It makes a big difference when you’re in a new city.”

Students and the NCRA Board of Directors mingle at Convention

Christine Willette, 2017-2018 NCRA President, mingles with students at a Board of Directors meet-and-greet at the NCRA Convention & Expo

A few of the scheduled events can help with networking. Shaunise Day, a student at West Valley College in Saratoga, Calif., says, “Attend the Awards Luncheon and sit at a table where you don’t know anyone. You will walk away feeling proud and inspired.” Jessica Frizzell, a student at College of Court Reporting in Valparaiso, Ind., recommends going to the president’s suite to meet the NCRA Board of Directors, which is part of the student track.

Feeling shy? Frizzell suggests wearing the student ribbon on your name badge — it will do the work for you. “I was a bit shy and nervous at first and didn’t know who to talk to or how to approach them,” she says. “If you wear that student ribbon, people will come to you!”

However a student chooses to network, the point is to use these conversations to your advantage. “You need to truly listen to what someone is telling you even if you think you’re years away from ever encountering such a thing,” says Hamilton. “Really be open-minded about the advice you receive and know that working reporters sincerely want to help you because they are so passionate about this profession.”

The Convention can also provide a boost in inspiration. “I enjoy my schooling and enjoy this profession, but the people I met and spoke with at Convention reminded me of why I’m working so hard and lit a fire in me to practice even harder so I can get out there and be a part of the working world,” says Frizzell.

Of course, the true value of networking happens after the event. “Make an effort to stay in touch with friends you make during the Convention,” says Christine Ho, a student at Mark Kislingbury’s Academy of Court Reporting. Follow up with everyone you meet once you get home, and then contact them regularly with updates, questions, or a simple hello. After all, one of your new contacts may be a future employer.

Getting the most out of sessions

The NCRA Convention & Expo includes a student track with sessions and activities that are designed to motivate students, help them find a community, and learn new strategies of getting through school.

Michael Roberts, a student at Brown College of Court Reporting in Atlanta, Ga., attended a session entitled “Finishing your program: You can do this!” given by Eileen Beltz at the 2017 Convention in Chicago. “Hearing stories from others who have had the same struggles is encouraging because you find out you’re not the only one dealing with these conflicts,” he says.

Kensie Benoit and Clay Frazier present at the NCRA Convention & Expo

Kensie Benoit and Clay Frazier present at the NCRA Convention & Expo

Day cites the session “What I Didn’t Learn in Court Reporting School” from the 2015 Convention in San Francisco, given by Kensie Benoit and Clay Frazier, RMR, CRR, as particularly motivating. “I was on the verge of deciding to give up a few months prior, and it wasn’t until I sat in on this seminar and realized that I can and will finish school despite my many challenges with working full time and going to school full time,” she says. She also learned about the many steno Facebook groups during this session.

Sessions are also a good way to meet working reporters who you admire. Cooper found the “Punctuation for the Real World” seminar moderated by Margie Wakeman Wells, CRI, at the 2017 Convention in Chicago, to be particularly helpful. “I could have listened to her all day to glean wisdom from her years of experience,” she said. “She directed the students in her seminar to read and practice our steno outlines from business magazines such as Newsweek and Time in order to increase our vocabulary, knowledge of current events, and steno writing skills.”

Linda Perez, a student at Downey Adult School in Downey, Calif., points out that one of the reasons to attend Convention is “to learn up-to-date demands in the work field.” The student track includes a couple time slots in which students can attend any session they want, and many students who have attended before recommend sitting in on a few of the sessions that are geared toward working professionals.

Carmody sat in on a session on writing more efficiently. “It was nice to have new pointers and to be able to hear different perspectives and opinions from multiple professionals, students, and schools,” she said.

Mixing and mingling in the Expo Hall

Don’t forget that the Convention includes an Expo Hall with vendors representing a variety of products and services and NCRA staff members with information about different NCRA programs and resources. In addition, several social events are held in the Expo Hall, including the Opening Reception. Day suggests using the Expo Hall as a place to mingle — with so many people around, you’re bound to make a connection.

A man in a suit shows a steno machine to a reporter at the Expo Hall

Trying a new machine at the Expo Hall

The Expo Hall also provides students the opportunity to begin planning what they’ll need once they enter the working world. “Talk to all the vendors about their products even if buying expensive equipment is still far in the future for you,” recommends Hamilton. Day advises also trying out different writers.

Alternatively, students may find resources in the Expo Hall that can help them right away. Day says, “Make a list of books that you’ve always wanted, and purchase them at the Expo. Books are normally sold at a discounted Convention rate.”

Top ten tips for students attending the NCRA Convention & Expo

  1. Find a reporter who you can pair up with if you are by yourself.
  2. Load the NCRA app before attending to get an overview of the Convention.
  3. If you are in higher speeds, sit in on some of the regular (not student) seminars.
  4. Court reporters love students! So be prepared to mingle with reporters who come up to you.
  5. Attend Convention as a group with other students to maximize your experience.
  6. It can be very overwhelming at times, so make sure you slow down and try to relax.
  7. Be on time to all student seminars, and sit in front.
  8. Make student business cards.
  9. Every single day at the convention has something new. Try to get as much knowledge as possible with everything being offered.
  10. Talk to as many people as you can.

And the number one tip for court reporting students thinking of attending the NCRA Convention & Expo? Perez sums it up: “Do it. Go. It is an investment.”

Rub shoulders with the pros

Court reporting students and the NCRA president and CEO stand in front of the Take Note campaign sign

Photo by: Nicole Napodano. Used with permission.

The NCRA Convention & Expo provides students the best opportunity to learn from the pros and experience the court reporting and captioning professions through the eyes of experienced reporters and captioners.

The 2017 Convention is no exception. Students who attend will have the opportunity to hear seasoned professions present on topics including the business of being a reporter, how to compete at the national level, and the best tips for online testing. In addition, attendees can meet and mingle with NCRA members from all arenas of the profession during a special student reception, rub shoulders with members of the Board of Directors during another reception, and get up and personal with vendors during the Opening Reception held on the Expo floor. The 2017 Convention is Aug. 10-13 in Las Vegas, Nev., at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino.

“You never know where this career will take you,” said Joe Strickland, RPR, CRR, CRC, retired chief reporter at the U.S. House of Representatives who will be presenting during the student track at this year’s event.

Strickland said he attended his first NCRA convention when he was still in court reporting school. “I knew no one. I’ll never forget attending the Awards Luncheon. I wandered in and had to sit with seven strangers. I was intimidated by the ballroom full of professionals who all seemed to know each other, but my concerns were allayed by my warm, friendly tablemates,” Strickland said.

“They immediately introduced themselves and asked me where I reported. When I told them I was a student, they all chimed in with enthusiastic, encouraging words. They made me feel like I was already a part of their team,” he added.

Strickland will be participating in a reporter speed-dating session where participants will rotate from table to table and spend 10 or 15 minutes with working reporters to discuss their varied careers. “I think it’s a terrific idea, and I’m looking forward to meeting the students who join us in Las Vegas,” he said.

Nicole Bulldis, RPR, said she attended two of NCRA’s Conventions & Expos while a student, taking away both energy and passion from the working reporters she met on-site. Bulldis graduated from Green River Community College, Auburn, Wash., last June.

“In school, all you see is you and your peers struggling. It was amazing to go to Convention and see people who had been reporting for 20 to 30 years be so passionate and motivating about this field. I still remember Nancy Varallo sharing her favorite quote in Nashville: Success does not happen by spontaneous combustion. You must set yourself on fire. That quote helped me finish school,” added Bulldis, who noted that she began her career as a paralegal before moving to court reporting. She currently works as an official court reporter for the Benton/Franklin County Superior Courts in Kennewick, Wash.

Doreen Sutton, RPR, a freelance reporter from Scottsdale, Ariz., and chair of NCRA’s Student Committee, encourages students to attend the Convention because of the opportunity it provides them to learn about current events and reporting software options, and to network with other students and professional reporters.

“I would like students to get to know working reporters, learn about the practice opportunities, and meet some wonderful reporters in each practice,” said Sutton. “I would like students to fall in love with attending Convention, like I did when I was just in my 60s speed, and resolve to try and attend convention each year. Plus, you never know when there will be special student surprises.”

Strickland agrees and encourages students to become familiar with the many options the field offers (including freelance, official, captioning, CART services, and legislative) because no one’s career path is identical to another’s.

“In my legislative career, I was honored to report State of the Union speeches by Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama. I reported the testimony of world leaders, CIA and FBI directors, movie star activists, and industry giants. I provided CART for a late-deafened judge as he testified before the House Judiciary Committee. In 2002, I reported a Special Joint Session held in New York to honor the victims of 9/11. It’s been quite a journey,” added Strickland, who retired after 22 years of service in the U.S. House of Representatives and works now as a part-time freelancer and a full-time traveler.

Learn about the speakers on the student track.

Learn tips for navigating the NCRA Convention & Expo as a student.

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.