What I learned the day I died

2013-08-16 14.40.49I died today. And I didn’t like it.

At around 3:01 p.m., only about a minute into a training exercise, I was shot by masked intruder.

In that second, two things happened: one, I majorly banged my knee on either the desk or the floor (I’m not really sure), and two, I’m realized I’m no good in an emergency.

Before the training, I held this cocky belief that I could handle myself. I would use my A.L.I.C.E. training to save the world.

Ugh. That was so not true.

I froze. My moment of hesitation led to my demise, and even though the exercise was totally fake – and I knew it was totally fake – it was scary.

What if this had been real? I would have never seen my children again.

Of course, the point of the exercise is to be as real as a possible, and it’s why Alisa Pacer, emergency preparedness manager for JCCC, wrote a script that seemed entirely plausible.

A gunman enters the Carlsen Center. A text message is sent to my phone to alert me, but I didn’t bother to look at it.

First mistake.

We hear “shots” fired outside our door. Inside our classroom, we begin questioning each other as to what we’ve heard.

Second mistake.

A male “student” in our room gets to the door, but he debates for a moment too long as to what to do, while the rest of seem to move in slow motion, not doing much of anything while we try to get our heads around what was going on.

Third mistake.

The door bursts open, and a person enters holding a bright orange gun with a red LED light on the top. For an eternity I stare at that light, then dive for the floor. But it’s too late. “Five – number five casualty, shot, presumed dead,” the shooter bellows, and he takes off down the hall.

My number -- so my body could be identified

My number — so my body could be identified

No, wait, I thought. I’m number five. That’s not fair. I wasn’t ready.

The sheer idiocy of that thought hits me as the monitor in the room states, “You’re dead.”

I don’t want to be dead. I want to be the star pupil of the training. I want to have remembered everything the trainer tried to teach me, and I wanted to use it.

But there’s a big difference between knowing it and using it when the situation demands it.

I am an excellent student. (Really, I love school. For four decades I have relished being the teacher’s pet.) But I am horrible at split-second reactions and gut-wrenching decisions.

In the debriefing, held after that initial training, Pacer confirmed that six of the 30 participants had been shot dead. So 80 percent of the population had fared better than me. They probably jumped into action faster or had longer to prepare. (I still think ours was the first room the shooter entered. It had to have been, right? It seemed like only seconds…)

I had assumed that, since I tend to remain unruffled in the face of major crises, I would do fine with this kind of scenario. What I didn’t realize is that I am unruffled AFTER a crisis, not during one. During one, I kind of suck at thinking, and I want to be around other people who aren’t so hesitant.

Best case scenario: I don’t ever want be in this sort of situation. Period.

Ken Sissom, associate professor of administration of justice, was a volunteer monitor in my room. As a 20+year veteran of the Merriam Police Department, he told me, “I’ve been shot at, I’ve stared down a gun, and there’s a big difference between what you think you’ll do in that situation and what you actually do.” I think he was trying to make me feel better for being such a deer in the headlights.

Pardon me, Ken, if I didn’t quote you correctly. I was running on adrenaline, and I think my note-writing hand would have been shaking if I had indeed bothered to write that down.

But that quote was close to what he said. And I agree with him. You never know what you’ll do unless you’re put into that situation, and I urge others at JCCC to participate in the next training scenario.

As Karen Martley, associate vice president of continuing education, said, “Any time you do active-type learning, you’re more apt to retain that information, but only if you use it.”

I think I learned quite a bit about dealing with intruders, but I also learned a lot about myself. Sigh.

31 years of photography at JCCC


What is your favorite memory of working with Bret Gustafson?

Bret has always been easy to work with and accommodating when asked for assistance or scheduling his services. He has supplied my facility with an excellent batch of action shots of our athletes on a three-year replacement basis. The newer ones decorate the athletic training clinic, and the rest are displayed in the weight facility and athletics offices. The pictures have added significantly to the ambience of our building. – Bill Buese, professor/trainer, athletics

Bret Gustafson

One day we had scheduled to get a picture of our division to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Student Center. Well, out came 250 persons to get their picture in a group pose. Bret never flinched, he thought for a few moments gave us some instructions and in five minutes we had 10 shots to choose from. Off went Bret after making memories for 250 employees of the college. He is a remarkably understated, brilliant photographer. – Dennis Day, vice president, student success/engagement

Bret is quick to respond to employee requests for help. He will comb his files for special pictures for an event such as a retirement reception and contribute whatever photos he has. Bret has helped many students through the years he has been at the college. He has been inspirational to watch as he helps art students, athletes and theater groups…Bret is just a real go-to person. –Berni Freeman, administrative assistant, procurement services

See more at http://blogs.jccc.edu/abullers/31-years-of-photography-at-jccc/


What will you miss about working with Bret?

Bret routinely goes above and beyond what I would call his normal duties as administrative photographer. He has photographed each of our theatre department productions for more than two decades. These photo sessions are typically between 10:30 p.m. and midnight, two or three times a semester…He is the greatest in our eyes, and we will be sad when he is gone. – Jim Lane, dean, arts, humanities and social science

When I was creating the Brown and Gold site last year, I asked Bret if he had any good photos for their site. He said he would look and I also went in to look at Portfolio [a software program that holds archived photos] to find one. I finally found the “perfect” image and sent it to him to ask if it would work. It was a photo of Bret. He sent back an email and said, “Nope, too old.” It was funny at the time. – Marilyn Gairns, web editor

That deadpan face and the great smile that so easily brightens it! – Bill Buese, professor/trainer, athletics

How easygoing Bret was. Plus he always worked around your schedule. – Mike Jeffers, men’s basketball coach

The photos Bret shot for the cover of Imprint were always a pleasure to behold. He is a genius when it comes to shooting portraits. – Diane Carroll, writer/editor

Bret makes his subjects feel like movie stars! I’ve never felt like a very photogenic person, but Bret puts his subjects at ease and boosts their ego with positive feedback. I’ve always looked forward to being around Bret. – Jason Kovac, executive director, academic initiatives

Great guy. Team player all the way. Always willing to help out and do the little things that help to make our student athlete experience what it is here at JCCC.

If it’s important on this campus, you can bet he is there taking great pics. – Ben Conrad, women’s basketball coach

For decades, Bret has been THE eye of the campus; what he sees and replicates is what we all see, on the homepage, in the publications, and when future historians try to write the history of the college with pictures, they will see it through Bret’s choices.  I can’t think of many people who have been more important to JCCC. – Jim Leiker, director, Kansas Studies Institute



Finding my strengths

Photo by Jeff McNeill via Flickr on Creative Commons

A first-hand look at JCCC’s Strengths Finder program

When I first spotted those words on the signature line of emails from coworkers, I was intrigued. What is Woo? Maximizer? What are they maximizing? Finally I asked someone what the heck those words were doing there.

“Oh, they’re from a program you can take. Tells you what your strengths are,” was the answer.

In a world where we’re measured more by our weaknesses than our strengths (call them “challenges” or “areas for growth,” if you will), learning about what I did well seemed to be a good ego boost. Beyond that, I was doubtful the program would help me, now that I already had a career path, a job and a few decades of work experience under my belt.

Sure, it must be nice for those college students to take stock of themselves, but I didn’t see the point for me – at first. Then I got started, and I was hooked.

In preparation for the Strengths Finder session, I took an online questionnaire. It’s timed, and I’ve never done well on timed tests. A couple of the questions disappeared even before I had the chance to answer. I was worried that indecision would somehow count against me. Then again, it was supposed to find my strengths, not my weaknesses, right?

When I received a printout of my results, it had all the fun of a horoscope. You don’t want to believe it, can’t believe there’s any science to it, and yet somehow, you find truth in the words, whether you wanted to or not.

Take, for example, my very first strength. (The printout gives you your first five, and these are called your “signature themes.”) My top strength was Input, and the very first sentence was, “You are inquisitive.”

Um, yeah. Hello. Journalism major. Teacher. And now I interview people for a living. Duh.

“You might collect information – words, facts, books, and quotations – or you might collect tangible objects such as butterflies, baseball cards, porcelain dolls or sepia photographs. Whatever you collect,” the printout informed me, “you collect because it interests you.”

Great. Now I’m a hoarder. But it did explain why I have such a hard time throwing things away. Don’t call that hoarding show yet, but don’t call Martha Stewart, either.

But that was the point, right? To find out what I am good at doing?

After attending class, I also have a heightened respect for what other people are good at doing. I have always been a teacher’s pet, content to sit quietly and do my homework, irritated at the other “bad” students who talk to each other when they’re supposed to be working. Yet they were the very people I admired when, at the rare party I attended, they flitted from group to group, smiling and laughing and making everyone feel as if he (or she) was the center of attention.

That’s a Woo. And I am so not a Woo. But after Strengths Finder, I appreciate the talents of one who is Woo. Woo-hoo.

And that’s sort of the point.

Karen Martley, executive director, Staff, Community and Workforce Development, likes that part of the program, too.

“We spend so much time telling people what’s wrong. What makes you unique is so much more positive and engaging,” said Martley. “I find strengths to be so real, because it’s a conversation about you and what makes you you.”

I haven’t added my strengths to my email signature, but I do have cardboard poster listing my strengths propped in one corner of my cubicle. So do a few of my coworkers. It’s a sort of shorthand that says, “This is who I am – and I’m proud.”

Woo-hoo for me. Woo-hoo for you, too. Call 913-469-3845 if you’d like to try it out.

Building a gingerbread house

Students take on a massive baking project

To the regular customers of the Friday afternoon pastry shop, the loss of the shop for two weeks in November was a sad occasion. No cookies, bread, tortes and scones. No cinnamon rolls and éclairs. Sweet tooths all over Johnson County were mourning, but in the end, a charity benefitted, just in time for the holidays.

Instead of running the shop those few weeks, the students of the pastry chef program at JCCC were putting the finishing touches on a life-size gingerbread house at Great Wolf Lodge, Kanas City, Kan.

The space inside the house can be reserved for $20 for a 60-minute seating, and the fee will be donated to Big Brothers/Big Sisters. For the full story on how the house was constructed, click here.

The house was created with:

  • 300 pounds of powered sugar
  • 200 eggs
  • 450 pounds of flour
  • 150 pounds of brown sugar
  • 100 pounds of candy (for decoration, of course)
  • 60 pounds of melted chocolate (used as “paint”)

A project of this magnitude was not without its complications.

Student Katie McCullough arguably spent the most time on the house. She was on hand when “Chef” (Doug Flick, professor, hospitality management) almost fell off a ladder while affixing blown sugar to the back of the house.

“We heard this big ‘bam’ and we went running to see if he was okay,” McCollough said. “All that had broken was the tray of (blown) sugar – sugar all over the floor. He said if he had fallen off the ladder, the noise would have been a lot louder.”

Thankfully, this is one house constructed with no workman’s comp issues…


Javis Kemper, executive chef of the Great Wolf Lodge, said one couple renewed their vows within gingerbread house even before it was completely finished.

“The house is way nicer than I ever imagined,” he said.

Apparently nice enough for impromptu weddings…


Sam Moore, Manhattan, Kan., was celebrating his fifth birthday at Great Wolf Lodge with his family when mom Jamie Dahlen snapped his picture inside the gingerbread house.

What did he think of the house?

“It’s really great,” he said. “I didn’t think it was real!”

That was when he stuck his finger into the middle of a meringue cookie, leaving a finger-sized hole. Yep, real. That’s what 5-year-olds do…

“Sorry!” his mom said. (That’s what Moms do.)

“It’s okay,” someone answered. “Now everyone will know it’s really real.”


Dia Donley, baker for the Great Wolf Lodge, said she was thrilled to have the students help out.

“If this had just been us (at Great Wolf), we would’ve had to start in February,” she said. “And even then, I’m still not sure we would have gotten it done!”

Somehow the smell of gingerbread cooking in July just seems wrong…


And lastly…

Student Rebecca Moles made the cookies that decorate the house inside and out. Some even say “I love you.” And believe it or not, even after 50-plus batches of gingerbread and endless hours of decorating, she still plans on making a gingerbread house of her own with her kids for Christmas.

“But a smaller one. A much, much smaller one,” she laughs.

Is that a great mom or what?

Beekeeping for the novice


There’s nothing quite like the feeling of holding a frame of swarming bees between your gloved hands. Hundreds of insects are crawling, walking, working, and you are there.

That’s where the phrase “busy as a bee” comes from, the instructor explains. The bees are always working. They are tireless in their task.

Considering that they have only six weeks to live, they have little time to waste. So many flowers, so little time.

I’ve been invited to join the class of Beekeeping II, the hands-on portion of the short (two-class) program here at JCCC. I’m here to write about what it’s like to take this class, and I can’t help but be a little excited and scared.

“You’re going to get stung, Mommy!” my 7-year-old daughter told me that morning. She and her brother share a near phobia of bees, and they’re amazed I’m going to go near that many bees on purpose.

As the class and I walk across campus from classroom to bee forest, I’m struck of how we must look: 25 or so beings from another planet, dressed in white suits, the netting obscuring our faces.

When we arrive at the hives, Robert Hughes, the instructor, puts burlap into a mental container that is one part creamer, one part flour sifter. Soon thick smoke is billowing from the spout.

My eyes sting. My throat burns. Then Hughes extracts a frame of bees from the hive – a wood-framed honeycomb about as big as a cafeteria tray but 10 times heavier – and I can’t help but get closer.

“Do you want to hold it?” he asks.

Do I want to hold it… Hmm. Every survivalist instinct says I should run away, but I say, “Yes, please.” It’s truly amazing. I can’t begin to count how many bees are in my hands right now. I feel a bit sheepish for just standing there, staring. It’s as if I’m a giant who has yanked off the top floors of an office building just to take a peek at the workers inside.

As I pass the frame along to the next student, I am amazed at how nature works. Who would have thought that something as wonderful as honey comes from fuzzy little bugs?

Of course, if I had taken Beekeeping I, I would have never called them fuzzy little bugs. In that class, students learn the life cycle of bees, the mysteries of communication among them, the actions of their queen and the recent decline in their number.  They learn respect for the bees, and then they go see them.

After we’ve picked out the queen (she’s huge) and watched Hughes install pesticide sticks to kill the bees’ mites (bees have mites? Even bees have problems with bugs?), I walk back to the classroom with Brian and Meya Kindred. They met Hughes through a mutual acquaintance, and even though they’re both physicians, they make time for a class like this.

Their home sounds like a utopia – four kids, three dogs, one fish and 100,000 bees, all south of Olathe, Kan.

All those bees? Around their kids? “You hardly even see them,” Meya says — of the bees, not the kids. They plan to give some of the honey to their friends.

Hmm. Lucky friends. Who doesn’t love free honey?