Category Archives: Employee Spotlight

Employee Spotlight: Derek Hillestad, Construction Project Management Senior Instructor

Where did you grow up? 

I hail from Lodi, Wisconsin (a town of 3,000 people 25 miles north of Madison).

Where did you attend college? What is your degree in?

I started at Madison Area Technical College taking courses in criminal justice. I then transferred to the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse and enrolled in the Recreation Management program. There were a few facility courses there that perked my interest in managing facilities, which inspired me to enroll in graduate school to learn more about sports facilities administration.

I completed my Master of Science degree at Ball State University and had job offers to work in various sports facilities prior to graduation. 

How long have you been working at Dunwoody? 

1 year and 2 months.

Why did you decide to work at Dunwoody?

Teaching, learning, and developing others is my passion and has always motivated me to offer the best version of myself to serve others. I have worked in industry developing staff to take on higher levels of career advancement. I then started teaching adjunct courses in 2011 and my passion for teaching and developing evolved in a classroom setting.

One of the major influencers in deciding to teach at Dunwoody was the opportunity to collaborate with administration on developing a Facilities Operations & Management program, which uses the Dunwoody campus as a learning laboratory.

Dunwoody launched its new Facilities Operations & Management program this year. Why is this program needed? 

Dunwoody has the Upper Midwest’s only two-year program in Facilities Operations & Management that is seeking accreditation from FMAC, the Facility Management industry’s highest benchmark for academic instruction.

In the last year, we have heard from well over 30 companies in the Twin Cities that the need for Facility Managers is entering a critical phase. There are so many retiring professionals and not enough talent to fill the pipeline. If you are a student, this is a great position to be in for employment.

What are a few of your hobbies?

Spending time with my wife and two boys (ages five and seven) is where you can find me when I am not at Dunwoody. Occasionally, I can be found on the golf course when we have great weather.

I am also pursing my Ph.D. in Sustainable Engineering, which takes up a lot of my “free” time.

What is your favorite movie genre? Any all-time favorite movies?

Anything my kids watch. Right now we are into Star Wars, Indiana Jones, “The Great Outdoors,” and Jurassic Park. I also appreciate our military’s efforts and service and enjoy movies like “Memphis Belle,” “Saving Private Ryan”, and “Act of Valor.”

What is your favorite pizza?

Meat lovers!

Fun facts:
  1. I have lived in six states while chasing my career.
  2. I have worked six Super Bowls and two Pro Bowls.
  3. I am a Christian.

Employee Spotlight: Mark Schwendeman, Welding & Metal Fabrication Instructor

Where did you grow up?

Northeast Minneapolis.

Where did you attend college? What is your degree in?

I studied welding at Minneapolis Community & Technical College.

How long have you been working at Dunwoody?

Four years.

What is your favorite part about working at Dunwoody?

Teaching new students how to weld.

What are a few of your hobbies?

Volleyball, fishing, and street rods.

What kind of music do you listen to? 

Classic rock or classic country.

What skill or talent have you mastered that you are most proud of?

I have mastered nothing, but I am a pretty good fabricator.

What is the best dish you know how to cook?

Chili.

What are you absolutely determined to do within the next year?

Build a rat rod.

What three things could you not live without?

Family, friends, and dogs.

What is something you will never do again?

Canoe the Brule River in early spring. I got talked into it by a self-appointed expert. Turns out, he was not. The river had a lot of bad rapids and freezing cold water. We also almost froze to death due to spending more time in the water than in the canoe. It was a good life lesson.

Fun facts:
  1. I am a dad of three kids.
  2. I have one granddaughter.
  3. I like to ice fish more than I like summer fishing.

Employee Spotlight: John Richardson, Associate Dean of Students

Where did you grow up? 

I grew up in southern Florida and the northwest suburbs of Chicago.

Where did you attend college? What is your degree in?

I started my college career at Savannah College of Art and Design, majoring in 3D animation. I changed majors to psychology and attended Harper Community College in Illinois. Then I attended the University of Montana where I majored in fly fishing and snowboarding. I finally got serious and graduated with a BA in Psychology from Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington.

I have my masters of arts in Counseling Psychology from the University of Denver in Colorado, and I am currently completing my MBA at Argosy University.

How long have you been working at Dunwoody? 

I have been at Dunwoody for one year and four months.

What is your favorite part about working at Dunwoody? 

There are three things that are my “favorite” about working here: the students, staff, and labs.

It is rewarding to work with the creative, hardworking, and committed Dunwoody students as they progress in their academic careers toward graduation. I work with smart, engaging, and committed staff and faculty, which makes it fun to come to work. Finally, it’s cool to see the technology (“toys”) in our labs and what our students make with that technology.

What are a few of your hobbies?

When not on campus, my wife and I are introducing our kids to fishing, cycling, and snowboarding/skiing. We moved here from Denver a little over a year ago, so we are still discovering the city and all the great outdoor activities in Minnesota.

Do you have any pets? 

We have a 13-year-old cat, Bailey. Bailey is the boss of Hoss. Hoss is our 6-month-old rescue dog.

What are three of your favorite cuisines? 

Thai, Mexican, and Japanese.

What’s your favorite movie genre? Any all-time favorite movies? 

This is a hard question. If I had to pick one genre, then I would pick science fiction. I recently saw “Get Out.” It was a great movie that worked on so many levels.

What sports teams do you root for? 

I follow professional cycling, so I don’t necessarily root for one team. However, Team EF Education First – Drapac Cannondale has a diverse roster of riders this year with some strong Americans.

I also follow the Chicago Cubs.

Please provide 2-3 (or more!) fun facts about yourself.
  1. So far, I have run three marathons and one 31-mile “ultra” trail marathon.
  2. My friend and I once completed a two-week, off-road motorcycle camping trip from Colorado to the Oregon coast and back.
Any advice for incoming Dunwoody students? 

You are now at one of the premier technical colleges in the country. It is going to be hard. Expect to be challenged. When — not if — you hit a roadblock, come see one of us in Student Affairs, reach out to your faculty, or find your academic dean. We are all here for you.

Employee Spotlight: Becky Somers, Admissions Data Analyst

Where did you grow up? 

I grew up in a small town in southern Minnesota called Waseca.

Where did you attend college? What is your degree in?

I have a Bachelor’s Degree in English from the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities, and I graduated last year with an A.A.S in Web Development from Dunwoody.

How long have you been working at Dunwoody? 

I have worked at Dunwoody for 15 years.

What is your favorite part about working at Dunwoody? 

My favorite part about working at Dunwoody is my co-workers. College admissions can be a very fast-paced and challenging working environment, but we try our best to make it fun and to support each other like family. When things get stressful or busy, I know that I have people who I can turn to for support (or chocolate)—and that makes all the difference.

What are a few of your hobbies?

I like to think of myself as a renaissance crafter. Nothing makes me happier than creating and learning how to do new things. I also love to fish, hike, and camp.

What is something you are absolutely determined to do? 

I am absolutely determined to make everyone I meet laugh.

What’s your favorite music genre? Any all-time favorite songs? 

I love all the music that my parents played for me in the 70’s—Fleetwood Mac, Earth Wind and Fire, Carole King, and The Beatles—just to name a few. It would be impossible for me to choose just one favorite song, but my favorite song to sing when it comes on in my car is “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen. I like to give it the full “Wayne’s World” treatment!

What are three things you could not live without? 
  1. My family and friends
  2. LaCroix
  3. Anti-frizz hair cream (stop by my office on a hot day in July and you will see why)
What’s the luckiest thing that’s ever happened to you? 

When I worked at the University of Minnesota, my office area faced the back alley of the Northrup Auditorium and the Dalai Lama was there to speak. They brought him in the back way with a ton of security, and as I was trying to catch a glimpse—my face pressed up against the window—he turned around and raised his hand. I like to think he was waving at me.

What is the most recent thing you’ve crossed off your bucket-list? 

A few years ago I visited Prague, and it was one of the most wonderful places I have ever traveled. The city is breathtaking and inspiring.

Please provide two to three (or more!) fun facts about yourself.
  1. Both my brother and I are Dunwoody graduates.
  2. I really love “Star Wars.” Every year my family and I watch all the episodes at least once. The rest of the year we entertain ourselves by finding each other “Star Wars” themed gifts.
  3. I make the absolute best Bloody Mary on the planet, complete with a ground turkey slider on a Hawaiian bun.

Employee Spotlight: Pete Zeller, Controller, Accounting

Where did you grow up? 

Mequon, Wisconsin.

Where did you attend college? What is your degree in? 

University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. I was an Accounting major.

How long have you been working at Dunwoody? 

Three years.

What is your favorite part about working at Dunwoody? 

Most of my working years have been at manufacturing companies, seeing raw materials get transformed into all kinds of useful things. I like the smell of cutting oil and seeing machines at work. I was attracted to Dunwoody by the manufacturing environment combined with the education-focused mission.

What do you enjoy most about your job? 

There are a lot of opportunities here, and it’s rewarding to make positive contributions.

What is your favorite memory at Dunwoody? 

The time Charla Hudlow, Senior Financial Aid Counselor, showed me how she celebrates Friday with a “happy dance.”

What are a few of your hobbies? 

Outdoor activities, hiking, house projects (if you call that a hobby), and working on my old Ford Fairlane.

What skill would you like to master? 

I will never master it, but I would like to take piano lessons again.

What books or TV shows are you enjoying right now? 

I enjoy the TV show “Mom,” and Keith Richards’ book “Life” is a fascinating story.

What three things could you not live without? 

My morning paper, a cup of coffee, and a good night’s sleep.

What is something you will never do again? 

Drive a school bus on icy roads, especially if there are middle-school kids on it!

Please provide 2-3 fun facts about yourself. 
  1. My two sons became interested in unicycling when they were young. They worked very hard to become good riders and competed nationally and internationally. (Yes, there are unicycle competitions which involve racing, artistic riding, and trials skills.)
  2. I learned to ride as well and did some off-road mountain unicycling with our boys and friends in the local club.
  3. I know it’s not a “smart” way to buy music, but I still purchase albums on vinyl.

Employee Spotlight: Paul Strother, Architectural Drafting & Design Senior Instructor

Where did you grow up?

I was born in St. Louis, Missouri. Soon after, I moved to Montreal, Canada, and again to Geneva, Switzerland, where I started elementary school. I moved to the Twin Cities for middle school and have been here ever since!

Where did you attend college? What is your degree in?

I attended college at the University of Minnesota, School of Architecture. I have a Bachelor of Architecture.

How long have you been working at Dunwoody?

Nine years!

What do you enjoy most about Dunwoody Architecture?

I have terrific colleagues and students. Dunwoody gives them what they need to be successful, and I like being a part of that.

What does it mean to you knowing the first class of Architecture students is about to graduate?

It tells me that the graduates had faith in us. I’m honored by that.

What are a few of your hobbies?

I love old cars. I have a ‘50 Chev, a ‘75 Citroen 2CV Camionette (the kind that looks like it was made in a shop class), a decaying ‘62 Fiat, and a ‘58 Isetta (one door in the front) in pieces in my family room.

What is your favorite Twin Cities restaurant or coffee shop?

Midori’s Floating World—I love Japanese food. For 20 years before that though, it was Mr. Q’s in Eden Prairie. Before the owner, Quyet, moved to Florida, he introduced me to Vietnamese food—another one of my favorite cuisines.

Where is the best place you have ever traveled to? Why?

Living in Geneva in the ’50s was a wonderful experience. It was so different than the U.S. or Canada. It broadened my thinking.

What are you most proud of?

My wife and I have three children, who are truly fine people and walk the talk of caring for others. They make terrific parents to my three grandchildren.

Please provide some fun facts about yourself.

I married an interesting woman, my wife Mary. Through her interest we have a photo darkroom, an art studio, 100+ geraniums, three dogs, a cat, 16 chickens, a blind rooster, a duck that wears a diaper around the house, and a maple syrup boiler in the front yard. Also at last count, something like 15 boats (she fixes old boats). Most are at our lake place in Northern Minnesota. In the summer, I office out of a 1966 Airstream we keep up there. Our main house is in Dahlgren Township west of Carver on 14 acres. I designed the house in 1981 before I had any idea what I was doing.

Anything else you’d like to share?

I’m happy to be here.

Employee Spotlight: Steve Cunningham, Automotive Service Technology Senior Instructor

Where did you grow up?

The Minneapolis area.

Where did you attend college?

Dunwoody College of Technology. 

What is your degree in?

My field of study was Automotive Service Technology—the same program I teach now.

How long have you been working at Dunwoody?

17 years!

What is your favorite part about working at Dunwoody?

Forming and strengthening departmental relationships.

Where did you work prior to Dunwoody? For how long?

My background ranges from working for automotive franchises to obtaining a tech position at a dealership. I have over 20 years of industry experience in multiple segments of automotive.

What do you enjoy most about teaching?

Students’ interaction with all of Dunwoody’s advanced automotive diagnostic equipment.

What are you determined to do?

Continue to work for Dunwoody College of Technology until I choose to retire.

What do you enjoy most about Dunwoody’s labs/shops/equipment?

Our Automotive department continues to invest in the technology necessary to provide students with an excellent opportunity to learn. Students are exposed not only to the latest industry vehicles, but also to the tools and equipment needed to make repairs.

Employee Spotlight: Sharon Jirak, Computer Networking Assistant Professor


Where did you grow up?
I grew up in the small town of New Haven, Iowa.

Where did you attend college? What is your degree in?

I graduated from the University of Northern Iowa with a degree in Industrial Technology. Later, I graduated from Dunwoody’s ELNS program.

How long have you been working at Dunwoody? 

15 years!

What is your favorite part about working at Dunwoody? 

My favorite part about working at Dunwoody is being a part of hands-on learning. I have so many opportunities to see the look of accomplishment on a student’s face after a good day in the lab.

What is your favorite memory at Dunwoody? 

One of my favorite memories at Dunwoody was watching one of my students receive the Student Leadership Award at the end of the year. He was with his parents, and he looked so proud. That was an award that was highly deserved.

Have you seen Dunwoody’s “project-focused, real-world learning” educational philosophy work? How?

Yes. Graduates have told me that many of the projects they did in class have been directly applicable to their job, and that having done those projects helped them tremendously.

For example, a former student in Web Programming & Database Development told me about a very helpful project she did while in the program. Her group met with an actual company, got requirements and use cases from them, planned and proposed a site idea, and then built it. She said that the site is still active today and that it was a very realistic and helpful lesson!

What are a few of your hobbies?
  1. Doing anything with my family
  2. Gardening
  3. Editing family videos (at a very amateur-level!)
  4. Genealogy
Do you have any pets? 

Yes. Three cats.

What skill would you like to master?

Video editing.

What books or TV shows are you enjoying right now?

I’m enjoying re-runs of older shows I used to watch like “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson”, “Coach”, and “Hogan’s Heroes”.

What three things could you not live without?
  1. My wonderful family.
  2. A place outside where I could plant tomatoes.
  3. Internet access. I get antsy when I’m on idle time and go too long without it.
Please provide 2-3  fun facts about yourself.
  1. Before I started teaching here, I had such terrible stage fright. It was to the point that I would get sick thinking about having to get up and speak in front of people! I thank Toastmasters and “falling on my face” several times in the beginning for turning that around.
  2. I was a student in the first class Rob Bentz (current Dean of Computer Technology) taught here at Dunwoody.