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Voyageur's Best Features of 2003

Sara Smith

Itasca experiences the Cromwell Connection
Sara Smith named Outstanding Student
by John Grones  |  May 20, 2003

It was an incredible evening for several Cromwell college graduates, and their former high school teacher, on Tues., May 13. It was the graduation ceremony at Itasca Community College (ICC) for three students; Sara Smith, Josh Line and Amanda Smith. They all graduated at the top of their class; and Sara was named the 2003 Outstanding Student of the Year for the entire college. In addition to that, Pete Koenig, high school teacher at Cromwell, was the first teacher accepted into the ICC Engineering High School Teacher Hall of Fame.

The highlight of the evening was the announcement that Sara Smith is the Outstanding Student of the Year at ICC. According to Ron Ulseth, engineering program coordinator and instructor, the award goes to a student based on their academic achievement, their community involvement, and basically, the way a person carries themselves.

“They have to be an outstanding person,” Ron said, a title that he felt was very fitting for Sara. Without hesitation, Ron stated that Sara was one of the top five students he has had in his entire teaching career. “And I’ve had over 1,000 students,” he added. “She is the first one to volunteer for anything... she is an organizer... she is a resident assistant... she is a student athlete... if there are any problems, she addresses them.”

Bill Maki, Dean of Students presented the award at the graduation ceremony. He shared that Sara was described by the faculty as intellectually inquisitive, an excellent example for other students, impeccably honest, always willing to help other people, a hard worker, and respectful of her instructors and fellow students. Sara maintained a 4.0 Grade Point average, and was the recipeint of the National Science Foundation scholarship.

Later, a special ceremony for engineering students was held in the new state-of-the-art Engineering Center. In addition to preparing a speech on reflections for her classmates, Sara was busy coordinating a special award for her high school teacher, Mr. Pete Koenig. Sara, Amanda and Josh honored Mr. Pete Koenig for his efforts toward preparing them for college.

Sara referred to the group, affectionately known as the Cromwell Connection. Five students have now graduated from the two-year engineering program, and are moving on to the next phase of education, but it all began in seventh grade.

“Coming from a high school graduation class of 28 students has its advantages,” Sara shared. “The biggest advantage for our class was having Mr. Keonig teach us math from seventh through twelfth grades. He also taught us physics.

As seventh graders, entering Mr. K’s room, we were very nervous. Mr. K (Koenig) was the feared, strict teacher. We had to be sitting in our seats when the bell rang, with our pencils ready and a notebook we had to keep for the length of the course, which was the whole nine months. This was, and still is, a very hard task for some seventh grade students, but learning that responsibility at a young age has paid off for us. We are expected to keep portfolios for our courses in college.

As juniors and seniors in physics, functions and trigonometry, we were challenged. Not all junior and senior classes were that hard. We could have been in our fourth year of industrial arts or physical education. Instead, we were pushing ourselves and enjoying Mr. Koenig’s math and science classes.”

To make the evening even more special, the Engineering Department decided to add a new, special recognition, which will continue each and every year. They chose Mr. Koenig as the first member of the ICC Engineering High School Teacher Hall of Fame. Recipients will be displayed on the first floor of the new engineering center.

Pete was very humble, as usual, and was honored. He shared that he is very grateful to have played a small part in the development of the students. For Pete, the Cromwell Connection all started when he heard about the progressive nature of the Itasca Community College Engineering Program. His first concern was the fact that nobody was working for the small school students. This two-year program was perfect and Pete can’t get over the incredible learning environment at the school. “There are some incredible people doing incredible things,” he said. “I feel very comfortable sending our kids there (ICC).”

Two of the first students to attend the engineering program from Cromwell High School are doing very well. Matthew Martin and Mason Hansen were the original Cromwell Connection. Ron Ulseth is still in contact with his former students and reports that Matthew, son of Mike and Carmen Martin, is currently employed as a mechanical engineer at Bechtel-Bettis NuclearPower facility in Idaho Falls, Idaho.

Mason has taken a route that closely resembles Ron’s very own path. He recently interviewed with U.S. Navy Admiral, Frank Lee Bowman, to be a Nuclear Power Engineering instructor with the Navy. He was accepted, which earned him free tuition for the rest of his schooling. Unfortunately, Mason had only one month remaining, so he decided to attend UMD for one year to earn his industrial engineering degree, before heading to Charleston, South Carolina to teach in the Navy.

These two students, Matt and Mason, along with the three who finished at Itasca this past week (Sara, Josh and Amanda) have all graduated at the top of their class, and the Cromwell Connection has left quite an impression at Itasca Community College. Ron Ulseth concluded by recognizing the one common thread of all these students: “They are the hardest working students I have ever met.”

This article first appeared in the May 20, 2003 issue of the Voyageur Press.