Rend Lake College names music rooms for donors


Some rooms at Rend Lake College are getting new names after a fund-raising project that raised double its goal.

The Board of Trustees approved naming the college’s music rooms after several donors to the music program. The Rend Lake College Foundation has spearheaded an effort to raise $50,000 for the music program, and naming opportunities were a big part of the plan.

The new room names are:

  • Henry Leeck & Cindy Leeck Practice Room
  • Hunt Bonan Classroom
  • Mary B. Pericolosi Practice Room
  • Mary Ellen & John D. Aiken Classroom
  • Rubenacker Family Practice Room
  • Spears Practice Suite
  • Sweeten Corridor

Through the campaign, supporters were asked to meet a number of needs in the music program, including remodeling the practice rooms, upgrading music rooms, providing scholarship funding, and purchasing equipment like risers, lockers and a library system.

The campaign ultimately raised more than $100,000.


Real estate courses begin Monday; still time to register


Those wanting to get started on a career in real estate can get the ball rolling with two upcoming classes at Rend Lake College.

RLC will offer Broker Pre-License Topics and Broker Pre-License Applied Principles this spring on campus.

“With a career in real estate, your rewards are based directly on your effort and hard work,” said Lori Ragland, Dean of Community and Corporate Education at Rend Lake College. “If you are motivated and can work well with people, the potential is there to earn a high salary along with a flexible work schedule and a degree of autonomy.”

Broker Pre-License Topics will be held from 6-9 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays from Jan. 14 through April 22. This class, worth five credit hours, is an introductory course pertaining to the fundamentals of real estate. Topics covered include federal, state and license law, marketing, seller and buyer relationships, real estate principles, real estate transactions, types of real estate opportunities, and application of real estate principles.

Broker Pre-License Applied Principles is an interactive course which, along with Broker Pre-License Topics, satisfies the 90 hours of instruction required by the Illinois Department of Professional and Financial Regulation. The class will be held from 6-9 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays from April 24 through May 13. Successful completion allows students to sit for the Illinois Real Estate Broker Examination.

For more information, contact RLC’s Center for Community and Corporate Education at 618-437-5321, Ext. 1714, or email to

Walk-in, sign up for spring classes at Rend Lake College


Rend Lake College’s spring semester starts Jan. 14, and college officials are making it easy for students to enroll.

Not through Jan. 11, prospective students can take advantage of the college’s walk-in period at the Academic Advisement Center, located in the Administration Building.

Walk-in hours are from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Jan. 4 and 11, and extended hours from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Jan. 7-10. The college’s phone number is 618-437-5321.

375 Rend Lake College students named to academic honors lists


Rend Lake College administrators, faculty and staff would like to congratulate the 375 students who made the President’s List and Vice Presidents’ List for academic achievement in the Fall 2012 semester.

“There are more 4.0 students on the President’s List this fall than each of the last two fall semesters,” said RLC President Terry Wilkerson. “Staying on task and maintaining that level of GPA is not easy. These students and their instructors should be very proud of this achievement. I encourage all of our honors students to keep up the good work, and I challenge all of Rend Lake’s students to work hard and make sure their names are somewhere on these lists when they come out next at the end of the spring semester.”

President’s List

The following 155 students earned a spot on the President’s List for achieving a perfect 4.0 Grade Point Average in the Fall 2012 semester:

Benton: Gabriel Cheyenne Bartok, Caitlin Elizabeth Bell, Catherine J Biggs, Alison M. Blair, Ryan P. Boner, Taylor Elizabeth Davie, Michaela L.Dollins, Trevor John Gipson, Mike Lee Hetisimer, Sarah Joplin, Katie Elizabeth Kiesow, Sierra D. Kind, Sydney Marie Morris, Karen Kay Powell, Peyton Denise Robbins, Michael Paul Skouby, and Molly E.Whaley
Bluford: Luke D. Breeze
Bonnie: Cory Lee Breeze, Trey Garrett Hall, Kyle T. Helmuth, and Tiffanie A. Seidel
Breese: Austin Charles Timmermann
Buckner: Rheanna D. Grizzell
Cambria: Ashleigh Danielle Stucker
Campbell Hill: Jesse Dale Smith and Dennis Allen Froemling
Carbondale: Jera L. Engel
Carlyle: John Robert Hampel
Carterville: Natasha Rhae Sparks
Christopher: Amanda Jo Arondelli, Amber Kay Faught, Lindsey Nicole Furlow, Lori Marie Kenniker, and Laura Maria Saxton
Coello: Tyler Scot Dennison and Joseph Nicholas Shaw
Coulterville: Alyscia Cherie Hassebrock, David Bradley Sprehe
Dahlgren: Daniel J Karcher and Jenna Lee Wellen
Damiansville: Blake Andrew Rakers
Dix: Monica Lynn Burney and Aarin Mariah Jeffers
DuBois: Kelsey Elaine Chapman and Melissa Fay Pearson
DuQuoin: Quinton R. Mathis
Elkville: Jaime J. Miller
Emden: Jason Carl O’Brien
Energy: David K. James
Enfield: Christine Renee South
Fairfield: Nolan Patrick Taylor
Farina: Michael G.Willis
Harrisburg: Megan A. Wren
Herrin: Jennifer Kathleen Mezo
Hoyleton: Donovan Lee Holle
Hurst: Corey A. Hacker and Jesse O. Hacker
Ina: Abbie L. Lehman
Iuka: Daniel Gene Qualls Jr.
Johnsonville: Samuel Christian Sorensen
Johnston City: Ashley Nicole Cobb, Jeannie Melisa Gibbs and Johanna Greiner
Jonesboro: Jordan Tyler Palmer and Brady Nathaniel Wright
McLeansboro: Elizabeth L. Dykstra, Colton Richard Flannigan, Krystal Dawn Knight, and Emily Miller
Macedonia: Jamey Edward Hicks
Metropolis: Victoria Frances Brown
Mount Vernon: Samuel Clay Buffington, Malinda S. Burton, Dakota Dawne Cross, Paula Dean Dodillet, Lexi Renae Donoho, Calen Matthew Durham, Shannon Blair Elsea, Tessa Charlene England, Tyler Jordan Flota, Lynne Page French, Scott Garrett, Gabriel P. Habtemariam, Brenae A. Hallam, Alyson Denae Hampton, Cody Lee Hawkins, Jared R. Hayes, Christine Renee Hood, David Paul Jeter, Casey L. Johnson, Juanita Rosetta Fay Jones, Brenda Diane King, Brandi Jo Lawrence, Craig Michael Lawrence, Joice Linette Lawrence, Luke D. Lemay, Joann Mathis, Emily Elizabeth Mayo, Micah Breann McGovern, Natalie D. Meador, Christopher Edward Miles, Cheyenne L. Morgan, Mallory Elizabeth Owens, Joshua M. Panzier, Allison Nicole Reed, Erica Cornelia Renich, Casey Rae Revelle, Kelly Joanne Schwaner, Christopher Robert White, Heather Nichole Williams, Kelly Ann Williams, Kelly Shea Williams, Christy Lynn Wilson, Richard S. Wilson,
Mulkeytown: Timothy J. Witcher
Murphysboro: Michael Dale Ramsey
Nashville: Jennifer Len Moeller
Opdyke: Sierra Beth Harrell and Elizabeth Mae Price
Pinckneyville: Jamie Marie Bathon, Melia Nicole Bathon, Taylor L. Beninati, Christina Lynn Braun, Mary Katelyn Brewer, Ryan John Kane Chapman, Jonathon James Kurwicki, Jami Elizabeth Schandl, Lindsey Renee Winter, and Luke Dallas Zeidler
Royalton: Jace Steven Poskevich and Chandra Noelle Weddle
Salem: Melinda Veller
Scheller: Hannah Marie Herzing
Sesser: Bobbie Jo Bauman, Alan J. Delbene, and Sandra Elaine Smith
Tamaroa: Charlotte Roslyn Loquasto
Thompsonville: Laura C. Alverth, Rhonda Lucille Harris, and Raven Levine
Valier: Krystal Marie Girten
Waltonville: James Alan Burris, Samantha Dawn Graziani, and Kristi Lynne Rapp
Wayne City: Mark Allen Feather and Haden Earl Smith
West Frankfort: Amanda Richelle Levine
Whittington: Andrew Thomas Neal
Woodlawn: Kasey Nicole Turner and Bronson Lyle Verhines
Xenia: Rachel Faith Bennett
Zeigler: Bailey Battaglia, Jesse Kays and Shane Aaron Smith

Vice Presidents’ List

The following 220 students earned a spot on the Vice Presidents’ List for achieving a Grade Point Average of 3.5 to 3.9 in the Fall 2012 semester:

Ashley: Andrew Michael Dreas
Anna: Kyle Leon Bunch and Cassie Jane Newberry
Belle Rive: Victor Clay Rapp and Melissa Marie Ritchey
Benton: Jeffery A. Clark, Lucas Daniel Erwin, Curtis Galloway, Alexander J. Heathcoat, Anthony Michael Heathcoat, Vanessa Elaine Lawrence, Matthew H. McIntosh, Jami Brooke Overturf, Theresa K. Parker, Beverly Ann Phillips, Sean Michael Stewart, Megan P. Thomas, Kandus M. Thompson, Seth E. Tremblay, Travis Scott Waninger, and Jeremy George Watkins
Bluford: Jesse Lee Krutsinger, Brandyn Edward Petersen, Miranda Lynn Shafer, Frank Brian Vahl, and Tanner Levi White
Bonnie: Alicia Mae Adams, Bria Nicole Allen, Kelsey Marie Allen, Melanie Elizabeth Burke, Kimberly Sue Davis, Christopher Lynn Edwards, Carolyn Sue Overturf, Benjamin Bruce Payne, and Tina Jon Welch
Breese: Aaron Paul Timmermann
Carbondale: Tara Lynn Castillo and Jake D. Thomas
Carlyle: Jacob Beckmann
Chester: Gregory Allen Rowold
Christopher: Ellis Dale Akers, Vickie S. Gunter, Benjamin Alan Kenniker, JoAnn Elizabeth North, Tyler Edward Rueter, and Racheal Lynn Smith
Cisne: Cody A. Manahan
Coulterville: Brandon Michael Godt and Danetta Sue Greer
Creal Springs: Brandon M. Hutchins
Dahlgren: Challis Jordan Flannigan, Joshua Cole Henry, Anna Elaine Moreton, Emma Louise Moreton, Adam Ray Rubenacker, Aaron Miller Trotter, Sara Beth Veatch, and Stacy Lynn Webb
Dix: Devin Joseph Riley
DuBois: Karen Nehrkorn
DuQuoin: Chaz Bland and Drew Thomas Johnson
Eldorado: Carmen Lynn Broadway
Ewing: Amy Marie Ferando and Ashley Dawn Spetter
Ina: Kendyl Marie Ahrens, Wesley William Bradshaw, Fallon Brooke Clayton, Emily Jane Cripps, Francis Dreslinski, Macy A. Friese, Kyle R. Hartwick, Jacob C. Hickey, Michael J. Jackson, Regina LaShawn Yvonne Mcclarn, Haley Marie Miller, Henry Tabor, Taylor Nicole Thomas, Gary Lee Walliser, David Edward Williams, and Erica Terese Wilson,
Herrin: Heather Nicole Kjellesvik
Iuka: Alexandrea M. Webster
Johnston City: Brett Reed Anderson
Kell: Eric N. Saatkamp
Marion: Zachary S. Farner, Sarah Anne Kessel, Bryan Andrew Marchal, and Elizabeth Louisa Oliphant
Mascoutah: Nathan R. Brand
McLeansboro: Henry John Dykstra, Patrick William Flannigan, Desta C. French, Ashley Lauren Griesemer, Michelle Nicole Kennedy, Kelsi Mae Krajniak, Marlene Mezo, Justin Scott Milligan, and Amanda Fay Owen,
Macedonia: Tina Marie Casillas and Jessica Lee Young
Mount Vernon: Nicole Mary Appleby, Brenda Kathleen Beel, Lakenzie Kathryn Blankenship, Darius Jamon Box, Stacey Lynne Bush, Andrew Lee Chambliss, John Michael Davis, Blake Ryan Deaton, Brian T. Deaton, Jacob A. Dial, Macey Le’Gae Ellis, Monty Carl Ellis, William Ryan Gibson, Donald Robert Hayes, Dylan Kristopher Hayes, Corey Daniel House, Lisa Isett, Charlton Ann Johnson, Bruce Jones, Mackenzie Ross Korris, Jennifer Nicole Laughlin, Kyle Wayne Lonas, Kamille Lynne Masters, Dena Elaine McCowen, Gabriel William Mckay, Ashley Renee Meritt, Christopher Allen Milburn, Brooke Alexandria Moore, Thomas Christopher Murphy, Joshua Michael Myers, Remington Levi Payne, Kristina Michelle Perkins, Dylan Thomas Rightnowar, Danielle Renea Roberts, Daniel Lee Robinson, Olivia Danielle Sledge, Taylor Paige Stockman, Tonya Jean Stutts, Tara Leigh Swan, Megan Danielle Whisler, and Zane Xanders
Mulkeytown: Ryan Scott Dawson, Kaylan Matthew Grove, Dallas Edward Lefler, Clarissa Allie Mayer, Karley Alynn McDaniel, Ashleigh Lynnelle Opp, Justin Tyler Roule, Stephanie Kalyn Twitty, and John Bryant Vercellino
Norris City: Justin Ramsey Johnson and Levi Christopher Marsh
Opdyke: Christina E. McLaughlin, Nicole Marie Meeks and Morgahn D. Zedalis
Plainfield: Elijah Burk
Pinckneyville: Jessica Nicole Bruns, Steven T. Campbell, Taylor Lynn Cheek, Charles E. Guffey, Kristina Annette Jeffers, Neil Albert Kellerman, Taylor Marie Kringer, Bethany D. McConnell, Taylor Dean Pyatt, Hunter David Queen, Bryant Gregory Shute, and Shelby M. Taylor
Raleigh: Hillary Nichole Shires
Royalton: Matt M. Battaglia, Christian Nathaniel Belt, Katie Marie Brown, Rob E. Gaddis, Scott Aaron Oeltjen, and Daniel L. Tolley
Salem: Robert Leon Hicks and Melanie T. Kalb
Scheller: Rebekah P. Kash, Caitlin Elizabeth Wisniewski and Katrina Ann-Marie Zettler
Sesser: Neone Francess Blake, Timothy Joseph Eubanks and Rebecca S. Key, Dawn Renee McClellan, Kelsey Danielle Szczeblewski and Emily M. Wells
Sims: Travis Eugene Thomason, Morgan Elysse Weber and Megan Marie Withrow
Steeleville: Keith William Hamilton
Tamaroa: Ashley Ann Attwood, Kyle Shane Creekpaum, Brianna Michele Gauch, Justin Brett Hale, Kelly Nicole Kuberski, and Adam Carl Valentine
Texico: Tami Jo Donley and Emily Hoffman
Thompsonville: Mandriell Dawn Sylvester and Esther Faith Wysong
Valier: Jacob L. Waters
Waltonville: Mindy Dawn Gauger, Kelsey Marie Lietz, Bobbi Marie Massie, and Luke Martin Stanhouse
West Frankfort: Nichole Barton, James Featherstone, Jennifer Marie Hawkins, Ethan Alan Poe and William Leon Thompson
Whittington: Katherine Maria Bozovich
Woodlawn: Blake Robert Kiselewski, Donna K. Krahn, Brecca Rae Mullinax, Kayoko Pruett and Jessica Nicole Welch
Xenia: Amy Lynn Carpenter
Zeigler: Taylor Danielle McPhail and Kaci Jo Stubblefield

RLC teams up to sponsor New Year’s weight loss contest


The biggest losers are the biggest winners with Lose to Win, a team weight loss competition kicking off with the new year through a local partnership.

Lose to Win is being organized by the Jefferson County YMCA, Crossroads Hospital and Rend Lake College. It kicks off with a start-up meeting Saturday, Jan. 5, and runs through March 2. Teams of four will compete to lose the most combined and individual body weight percentage, with a big helping hand from the organizers: contestants will have access to the YMCA facility, the Crossroads swimming pool facility, and the RLC Fitness Centers and Aquatics Center.

Up to $1,000 will be awarded to the first, second and third place teams with the highest percentage weight loss. An Individual Weight Loss Champion also will be crowned and given $500. The Best Team Name wins $250.

Team members will receive a two-month membership pass for access to the YMCA, Crossroads swimming sessions, the RLC Fitness Centers on campus and at the MarketPlace in Mt. Vernon, and the RLC Aquatics Center at the Ina campus.

The cost is $100 per team. Team members must be 18 years of age or older. Schedules and additional details will be provided at the weigh-in meeting on Jan. 5. Participants must pre-register to receive details for the Jan. 5 start-up meeting. Informational sessions will be held Wednesday evenings throughout the program.

Anyone interested in registering can contact the YMCA at 618-242-7500.

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Fundraising goals met for Rend Lake College music program

December 11, 2012 By Leave a Comment

Shawna Hall speaks to hundreds of guests at the 2012 Rend Lake College Foundation Annual Dinner, held Dec. 6, in Mount Vernon. Hall, CEO of the RLCF, took the opportunity to announce that a campaign to raise funds for facility and equipment upgrades in RLC’s music program has generated more than double the initial funding goal of $50,000. Looking on, from left, are event Master of Ceremonies and Publisher Jim Muir, and RLC President Terry Wilkerson.


A crescendo of support from music and education enthusiasts in the area made it possible for the Rend Lake College Foundation to reach more than twice its funding goal of $50,000 for “The Music Project.”

RLCF CEO Shawna Hall made the announcement Thursday night at the RLCF Annual Dinner Meeting in Mount Vernon. The project is aimed at upgrading the RLC music department’s facilities and equipment. It’s initial goal was set at $50,000. More than $100,000 has since been raised.

Hall spoke to the hundreds of guests in attendance about how grateful the students and faculty are to receive such generosity. She thanked them for their commitment to bettering the college and its students, saying the project had personal significance for her. Hall is among those who contributed money to the campaign.

A video presentation, prepared by Bruce Baldwin of Baldwin Media Development, asked viewers to “imagine a world without music.” The video featured students and administrators, RLC Music Director Sara Alstat, RLCF Board Member and RLC Trustee Randy Rubenacker, and RLCF Board Member Mary Ellen Aiken, a Benton resident who championed the project as its co-chair with Hall.

“It occurred to me while I was watching it that each person we featured in that video only took one take to tell their story,” Hall said. “… I believe the reason they all did so well is that they are passionate about this campaign. They truly understand what a world without music would be like and they understand that our music department is how we bring the community into our community college. They don’t need a script. They are speaking from their hearts.

“I want to thank my campaign chair, Mary Ellen Aiken, and each and every person who donated to this,” Hall added. “Without Mary Ellen and all of our donors, we would not be able to do this.”

Through the campaign, supporters were asked to meet a number of needs in the music program, including remodeling the practice rooms, upgrading music rooms, providing scholarship funding, and purchasing equipment like risers, lockers and a library system.

Contributors to the project include Mary Ellen and John D. Aiken, Hunt Bonan, Scott and Jenifer Spears, Dr. Gary and Karen Sweeten, Mary Pericolosi, Peoples National Bank, Randy Rubenacker, George and Mary Slankard, Buster Leeck, Cindy Leeck, Steven Beal, Shawna Hall, Chris Kuberski, Dr. Robert and Marilyn Parks, Dr. Warren and Phyllis Petty, the 2013 RLC Concert Choir, the 2013 RLC Concert Band, Sara Alstat, Cindy Caldwell, Millie Caldwell, Cathy Cross, John Kabat, Mark and Pat Kern, Larry Phifer, Matthew Flanigan, Jim and Marian Leuty, Tom Malkovich, Trish Reed, Dr. Sue Tomlin, and Rich and Donna Yunkus.

Over the past year: More than 700 students have enrolled in music classes of various types at RLC; More than 1,200 individuals have attended dinner theatres, concerts and other musical events; and nearly 1,500 people went to musicals and other theatrical events. Every one of these individuals will be affected by the upcoming renovations to the music department at RLC.

Work was quickly underway last week in the music department. As soon as students had finished taking their fall semester final examinations, equipment was being moved to make room for facility upgrades.

For more about the music program at RLC, visit online at

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Rend Lake College Foundation director Leuty receives Presidential Award

December 10, 2012 By Leave a Comment

Rend Lake College Foundation board member Jim Leuty receives the RLCF Presidential Award at the foundation’s annual dinner Thursday night. Presenting the award to Leuty is RLC President Terry Wilkerson, left, and RLCF CEO Shawna Hall.


Jim Leuty received the Rend Lake College Foundation Presidential Award during the RLCF Annual Dinner Meeting Thursday night at the Mount Vernon Holiday Inn.

Leuty, 49, of Mount Vernon, is a CPA and partner at Krehbiel and Associates accounting firm. He is one of the newer members to the RLCF Board of Directors. However, his firm’s work on the Foundation’s audit in past years makes him very familiar with its functions.

With another firm conducting the most recent audits of the RLCF, Leuty found himself on the other side of the process. Foundation officials said it was his work on this audit that made Leuty deserving of the RLCF Presidential Award.

Shawna Hall, CEO of the Foundation, said Leuty was active in a series of long meetings about the audit.

“His expertise was vital,” said Hall. “I can’t thank him enough for his willingness to go above and beyond for the Foundation. It was reassuring to have him there as we went through the audit. But it doesn’t stop with the audit. Jim is always there to help out with our monthly financials or anything else we need.”

The RLCF Presidential Award is among the institution’s most prestigious honors and is reserved for an RLCF Board Member who shows exemplary service. The first recipients were Hunt Bonan, Mildred Fitzgerrell, Richard Garner and Howard L. Payne in 1995. Jim Kelly was the 1996 recipient, followed by Sam Mateer in 1997, Jimmy Fulks in 1998, Wendell Maulding in 1999, Rich Yunkus in 2000, Dr. Warren Petty in 2001, Bill Regenhardt and Mark Ballard in 2002, Dr. Gene Stotlar and Dr. Charles W. Roe in 2003, Dr. Robert Parks in 2004, Terry Addington in 2005, Millie Caldwell in 2006, Bob Thomason in 2007, Mary Ellen Aiken in 2008, Ed Cunningham in 2009, and Steve Rowland in 2010.

For more about the Foundation, visit online at

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Rend Lake College offers free photos with Santa

December 5, 2012 By Leave a Comment


Rend Lake College is offering free photos with Santa on Saturdays this month in Mount Vernon.

Santa will be at the RLC MarketPlace, Potomac Boulevard in Mount Vernon, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays through Dec. 22.

You can find the jolly old elf in the Shoe Stop store at the center.

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NASA engineer Peter Johnson named RLC Alumnus of the Year

November 29, 2012 By Leave a Comment

Peter Johnson’s degree from Rend Lake College was the launchpad to a stellar career. Literally.

The RLC Class of 1985 graduate, and this year’s RLC Alumnus of the Year, used his education at RLC and beyond to transform himself from janitor to NASA engineer. It took hard work and a determined focus on education.

“I worked as a janitor at Bethel Elementary in Mt. Vernon,” he explained. “A social worker in Mt. Vernon, Ms. Watkins, arranged for me to be involved in the CITA program. That allowed me to work on an Associate in Applied Science at Kaskaskia College. But once I realized that degree would not lead to an engineering degree, I entered Rend Lake College.”

He graduated with his Associate in Science and didn’t waste any time pursuing education beyond RLC. Two years later he earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. While at SIUC, he ran his business – a television and stereo repair outfit called Johnson Electronics – to help support his wife, Cindy, and their infant daughter.

“Juggling a family, a business, and school at the same time was definitely a challenge. From that experience, I have great respect for all returning students! Sometimes I think I am successful today because I was an older, returning student. I was ready to do what it took to get a good education.”

He credited strong examples set for him by his parents when he was growing up. His father was a chemist.

“I made a conscious decision going to Rend lake College to pursue a degree in electrical engineering and, on my father’s advice, took a broad range of engineering courses rather than specializing in any particular field. My father … suggested that companies would prefer someone with breadth and would provide specific, job-related training after hiring.”

His mother was also an analytic chemist. She stopped working to stay at home and raise Peter and his brothers. When the boys entered elementary school, she went back to school to be able to teach mathematics.

“I would watch her study when we came home from school and then watch her work hard grading papers once she became a teacher. I learned from them both, by example, that succeeding requires effort and that it is OK to struggle. I also found that collaboration was much better than competition. That was one gift I took from going to a community college. I see that communities work together for everyone’s benefit. That is not always the case for a large school, where the goal seems to be competitive and to be better than your classmates.”

thumb PeterJohnsonSTS131 tankM

Rend Lake College’s 2012 Alumnus of the Year Peter Johnson is pictured here at the top of launch pad A, just next to the top of the external tank used by Space Shuttle Discovery during the STS-131 mission. Johnson will accept his award at the RLC Foundation Annual Dinner, Dec. 6, at the Mount Vernon Holiday Inn. Purchase tickets by calling 618-437-5321, Ext. 1324.

Collaboration is an absolute must where he works now.

NASA was never a goal. It wasn’t even a dot on the radar until one day when he was walking through the basement of the engineering building at SIUC.

“There was a handmade sign, made from a cardboard box, that said ‘NASA interviews tomorrow.’ That sign led to an interview and a job offer for the Shuttle Human space flight program at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.”

Johnson, fresh out of SIUC, was hired as an Instrumentation System Engineer. It was 1987 – a year after the Challenger accident on Jan. 28, 1986, when the space shuttle broke apart shortly after lift-off, killing all seven crew members. Many can remember watching the tragedy play out on live television. Classrooms across the country were tuned in to watch crew member Christa McAuliffe – the woman who was planned to become the first female teacher in space. The accident prompted U.S. President Ronald Reagan to order an extensive investigation into what happened. NASA’s organizational culture and decision-making processes were called into question.

In the early 1990s, Johnson was promoted to Technical Lead for the Space Shuttle Orbiter Instrumentation Section. His section has been renamed the Flight Instrumentation Section, and is now within the Flight Avionics Division, following the cancellation of the space shuttle program.

“As an Instrumentation Engineer, my job is to ensure the engineers responsible for the various subsystems on a spacecraft – electrical power generation, environmental controls, propulsion, main engines, et cetera – can monitor and assess the performance and operation of those subsystems both on the ground and while in orbit and, should an unpleasant event occur, have sufficient data of an acceptable level of quality to be able to determine what went wrong and what sort of corrective action needs to be taken to recover and ensure the problem never occurs again.”

His work in that area earned Johnson a Silver Snoopy. According to the NASA website, a Space Flight Awareness Silver Snoopy Award is the astronauts’ personal award. Eligible candidates have made contributions toward enhancing the probability of mission success. Johnson was nominated by Astronaut Jim Newman.

“Before then, data went from the Space Shuttle Orbiter by radio to mission managers on the ground and the mission managers verbally told the crew what was going on. I was able to give the astronauts a data link where they could see everything that was being sent to the ground. The first time they used it to perform a rendezvous, they saved over 50 percent of the fuel allocated for the operation because they could see what they were doing in real-time. From then on, it became a valuable resource that was used on every mission.”

Johnson also received the NASA Exceptional Achievement medal for work to resolve a problem with engine cut-off sensors that resulted in twice scrubbing the STS-122 mission (Atlantis).

Most people think of NASA and imagine what they see in Hollywood movies. Astronauts, scientists, doctors, engineers, administrators – all hooked up and linked in, communicating from mission control to space, in its own small world. It turns out that’s pretty close, according to Johnson.

“Around Kennedy Space Center, it always interests me that we are a small city unto ourselves, with our own power plant, health service, and train yard – including three locomotives. Kennedy Space Center is interesting in that our role in the Space Shuttle Program basically extended from landing, servicing the Orbiter, installing the payload – like a new module for the International Space Station or repair components for the Hubble Space Telescope – stacking the solid rocket boosters and external tank, mating the Orbiter to the stack and, finally, launch countdown.”

He went on to explain that KSC only plays a support role during the actual mission. But as NASA began to prepare for the next generation of space capsules and launch vehicles, Johnson became one of a handful to KSC engineers who were able to move into on-orbit support for their subsystems. This role, known as the NASA Subsystem Engineer (NSE), was a very exciting and a rare exchange of authority from the Johnson Space Center [in Houston], he said.

“To know that I was responsible for the health and welfare of a crew that was 120 to 200 miles above the Earth was exciting, terrifying, and humbling – all at the same time!”

Johnson has been involved with 110 successful missions, starting with the post-Challenger return to flight mission in 1988 and including Endeavour’s Intelsat capture, repair and release; and the Hubble repair mission where he was asked to assist on an independent peer review of the Hubble Space Telescope replacement control unit/science data formatter that was installed. While every part of every mission may not have went as planned, lessons were learned without lives lost. But out of them all, one of his strongest memories is from Feb. 1, 2003.

“[I was] standing with my wife and son by the river that runs past my home, waiting for the twin sonic booms that announce the return of the Space Shuttle Orbiter to the landing strip at Kennedy Space Center. It is not very often that I was able to do this, since I was usually in the ‘Firing Room’ monitoring the health of the instrumentation system. But, that day I was at home. I knew something was wrong. There is no good reason for the sonic booms not to be heard.”

The Columbia broke up over Texas during reentry, resulting in the death of all seven crew members. Debris from the disaster stretched from Dallas and into Louisiana and Arkansas. A massive, organized ground search was conducted to recover debris over the months that followed the tragedy.

“Eventually, one of the tape recorders that I was responsible for was found in the wreckage and I was tasked with hand processing that data and distributing it to those who would eventually identify the source of the failure. A piece of foam from the external tank had come off, striking and punching a hole in the leading edge of the wing, allowing superheated gases to enter the wing, leading to the breakup.”

thumb PeterJohnsonFR2 run

Johnson mans his station in Firing Room 2 with other members of Kennedy Space Center’s Engineering Leads and Management Team during the launch count down for STS-134 Space Shuttle Endeavour.Johnson will speak at the RLC Foundation’s 2012 Annual Dinner. This year’s theme revolves around “Inspiring Gifts.” In Johnson’s case, it is the gift of possibility – the possibility RLC provided him years ago when he was a janitor looking for more and the possibility he personifies for future students.

“Education is the key to a full and rich life,” he said. “I’ve always considered myself to live in a zen-like manner. I eat when I’m hungry, sleep when I’m tired, and take life as life presents itself. But, it is education that allows many more and better opportunities to present themselves. I certainly would not be where I am today if I had been content with my first set of experiences.”

He returned to school again, this time earning his Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering, specializing in Digital Signal Processing, at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, in 2007.

“Rend Lake College provided me the firm foundation I needed to move on to the higher-level engineering courses I took at SIU and in my job at NASA. Whether by luck or fortune, I’ve never had to take an additional prerequisite for a class that followed any of those I took at RLC. RLC provided an exceptional footing for my educational and career path.”

His advice to students is to never stop learning and remember that it all starts with the fundamentals. He said he still reaches for those math, engineering and physics textbooks he used at RLC.

“I’ve found that I never stop learning. There will always be new tools to aid in whatever field you are involved in, whether that be arts, science, machining, sports, or engineering. Stay abreast of those tools as they will stimulate new ideas and approaches. At the same time, rely heavily on the basics of your field. There is a reason you were taught the vocabulary and foundations of a subject first. Everything grows from there.”

Peter and Cindy Johnson live in Florida. Cindy worked as a music teacher at Bethel Grade School, Opdyke-Belle Rive Grade School and Casey Junior High School when they lived in Mt. Vernon. She has continued her passion for music education – now as the Music Resource Teacher for the 86 schools in Brevard County where they live. Their oldest daughter, Katie Childs, was born in Mt. Vernon and now lives in Brooklyn with her husband Erik. Katie works for a small organic beauty company called Red Flower. Peter said she is having “some of the best experiences I have ever heard.” Their other daughter, 18-year-old Tricia, is in her first year at New College of Florida –  a small, state honors college in Sarasota. She is studying math and literary arts with a current goal of working in publishing, he said. Their son, 16-year-old Nick, is gifted in science and mathematics, along with being “a stunning musician,” Peter said. Nick plays piano, is one of 12 cellists in Florida’s 2011-12 All-State Orchestra, and has earned a spot in the Brevard County All-County Band after recently taking up percussion.

“I love music,” said Peter. “That is part of my pride in my family. Each is a gifted musician, where I am an outstanding audience member!”

He said he is still learning to play the guitar he bought in Mt. Vernon 25 years ago.

“I am finding it to be more challenging than learning any engineering equation.”

He sits on the Board for the Brevard Symphony Youth Orchestra, helping to provide the student musicians in the area with a satisfying ensemble experience. He says he’s on a “quest to remind people that quality of life involves feeding the emotions via the arts, as well as the body with food. I’m hoping to transform the focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) to STEAM by adding Art back into the discussion.”

Johnson said he was honored and stunned to learn he had been selected for one of RLC’s most distinguished awards.

“I understand there were many worthy candidates and I looked at myself as less likely of receiving the recognition than the others,” he modestly stated.

“Each year, we are extremely impressed and encouraged to see the results of the education that Rend Lake College offers,” said RLCF CEO Shawna Hall. “Peter T. Johnson, our 2012 Alumnus of the Year, continues our tradition of excellence. He holds an accomplished position in a career that most people only dream of while they are watching space shuttles launch.”

Johnson will officially receive his award at the RLCF Annual Dinner, Dec. 6, at the Mt. Vernon Holiday Inn. The evening begins with cocktails at 6 p.m., followed by dinner and ceremony at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are available for $40 each by calling 618-437-5321, Ext. 1214 or 1324, or by sending an e-mail to A table of 10 can also be reserved.

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RLC Cheerleading team hosting spaghetti fund-raiser Dec. 1

November 27, 2012 By Leave a Comment

The Rend Lake College Cheerleading team will hold a Spaghetti Supper Fund-raiser at 5 p.m., following the Warriors and Lady Warriors conference basketball home openers on Saturday, Dec. 1.

The event will last until 7:30 p.m. and will take place in the RLC Student Center. Tickets are $7 for spaghetti, breadstick, salad, dessert and a drink. They can be purchased from any member of the cheerleading team, or reserved by contacting Coach Nikki LaBuwi-Corollo at 618-513-1978, or by e-mail at Take-out is an option.

The Dec. 1 Lady Warriors home game tips off at 1 p.m., followed by the Warriors game at 3 p.m. Both teams are opening the conference season against Lincoln Trail.

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