Monthly Archives: December 2017

Biology raps, works of art stem from Durham Tech extra credit

Dorothy Wood understands Biology is not for everyone. Most students are fulfilling a general education requirement while a small few share her enthusiasm for the subject.

“I’ve been teaching this same subject for 15 years and there’s not a single day I’ve been bored with it,” said Wood, Biology Instructor at Durham Technical Community College. “Every class dynamic is different. It’s always a joy really.”

Last year, one of her students gave her an idea.

“I had a young fellow, Randy McGilvary, who claimed he was not a scientist so I asked him, ‘If you’re not a scientist then what are you?’ He said ‘I’m an artist,’ so it got me thinking. I said ‘What if I gave you an opportunity to showcase that?’ He said ‘I would love that!’ He submitted a hand drawn portrait of Charles Darwin and that’s what started it all.”

At the midpoint of each semester, Wood offers students an extra credit assignment to showcase their creative side as it relates to Biology.

The responses are one-of-a-kind.

“I’m absolutely overjoyed to see the effort they put in to these projects,” Wood said. “I’m like a proud mother hen when they do this. That they care enough about the course to do the projects and the pride they show when doing the work is really a delight.”


This year she received two raps, a biology trivia board game, cakes that represent the principals of osmosis, a batch of cookies that show cell division, and several drawings showcasing biological organisms.

One of her students, Tyler Laws, 19, spent Thanksgiving Day recording a rap about mitosis.

“I wanted to rap about mitosis because that process is really important to me because my mom had breast cancer,” Laws said. “So when we were learning about that unit I was really interested in learning about how tumors form. I’m not very artistic when it comes to drawing, but in the past I’ve done poetry and really enjoyed it so I thought I’d put together a biology rap.”

Abbey Downing, 19, wrote an extensive rap about her experience in the class and various biology lessons.

Wood enjoys getting to know her students better through this project and looks forward to the responses she’ll receive next semester.

“I judge them on their ability to answer questions about science, but I don’t know a thing about them otherwise,” Wood said. “So I just wanted to give them a chance to showcase what they can do if they’re doing science simply as a general education requirement. They never cease to amaze me.”

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From Durham Tech to M.I.T., Karoui’s team snags first at national robotics competition

Mohamed Karoui had been awake for 48 hours.

After a full day of travel and an 18-hour robotics competition, Karoui found himself asleep on the floor of the Lesley University library in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The good news – his team won.

Earlier this year, Karoui, 25, was accepted to compete in an overnight robotics competition at the 2017 Robotics: Science and Systems Conference at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. More commonly known as “Hackathon,” participants were tasked with programming and maneuvering autonomous rovers through an obstacle course while picking up as many resources, or Styrofoam cubes, as possible along the way.

“This is a two-semester competition compressed into 18 hours with nothing to start with,” Karoui said. “It was really stressful. We couldn’t leave the room. We saw the sun go down, the morning came, and the sun was back up.”

Karoui received a paid scholarship from the University of New Mexico to attend the competition along with former Durham Tech student Madeline Yun. When they arrived at the competition, they were separated into different teams with students from other colleges around the country. The two represented Durham Technical Community College, but ended up competing against each other.

Five groups of four put their minds together to develop algorithms that would coordinate rovers in an indoor, GPS-denied environment. Teams had to write code that would make the rovers navigate through a course, dodge obstacles, collect resources and bring it back to home base.

Karoui’s team operated on rotating shifts. Three people would brainstorm ideas while one person served as the programmer.

“We were very critical of the ideas we brought to the table,” Karoui said. “Every time someone had an idea, we’d ask, ‘why would this idea not work?’ At the beginning of the 18 hours, each of us had 20 or 40 ideas, but at the end we had one or two left that were feasible to implement.”

One idea gave them an edge. They decided to ask the judges how heavy the obstacles were.

“The risk was asking the judges,” Karoui said. “We could have gotten disqualified, but given the amount of time that we had, we could have spent 60 percent of our time trying to figure out how to go around these things and not win or take a risk, see if the judges would accept it and get first place.”

To their surprise, the judges told them the obstacles were cardboard boxes.

“I told our team not to worry about navigating and just mow the field,” Karoui said. “We didn’t care about obstacle avoidance anymore because the boxes were lightweight. The other teams thought they had to go around the obstacles, but since we knew they were only cardboard, we could push them around. This made us win the competition.”

Teams were given 15 minutes to get through the obstacle course. Not only did Karoui’s team make it through course and back to home base, their rover picked up five resources along the way. They were the only team to grab any resources.

“I didn’t think we were going to pick up anything,” Karoui said. “It was a really satisfying win. We ended up staying in Boston two extra days to see the sights and celebrate.”

Karoui says the takeaway from the competition was invaluable.

“The competition awards simplicity and gives you perspective on how to be successful in the real world and get results,” Karoui said. “It definitely opened my eyes in terms of what’s required to be a team leader. It showed me what I’m lacking and what I need to work on. There are a lot of smart people out there. Being able to travel and compete across the country and see how well others do compared to yourself and seeing how much you have to improve is invaluable.”

He credits much of his success to the math department at Durham Tech.

“The math department is just impeccable,” Karoui said. “All of this wouldn’t have been possible without Julie Hoover, Mr. (Chris) Mansfield, Dr. (Margaret) Memory, and Ms. (Emma) Borynski.”

Beyond a trophy, Karoui says this win will play a large role in his future career goals. After returning home, he applied for a programming instructor position at The Coder School in Cary to teach 9 and 10 year olds the foundations of coding.

“I know I got the job because of this competition,” Karoui said. “It was all they asked about during my interview.”

He’s enjoying every minute of teaching.

“I have a newfound respect and understanding for teachers,” Karoui said. “After working one or two weeks on a single concept and then all of a sudden you see the spark in their eyes, you’re like wow, I may have just put this person a career path.”

Karoui plans to graduate from Durham Tech in May 2018 with an Associate in Science and transfer to North Carolina State University in Fall 2018 to pursue a double major in computer science and applied mathematics. He also plans to get a Master of Business Administration degree and later his doctorate in hopes of becoming a professor.

Durham Tech provides Idada-Parker, family ‘opportunity to live American Dream’

Valerie Idada-Parker first met Marilyn Slaughter in a Durham church pew. Idada-Parker had recently voyaged from Nigeria to Durham and was looking to start her new life in the U.S.

It was 1988 and Idada-Parker didn’t know anyone yet in the Triangle. She was expecting her first child and was thinking about her future.

In stepped Slaughter, a fellow parishioner at the church and an executive assistant at Durham Technical Community College, with information about the College’s Single Parent Program.

“I can’t quantify Marilyn’s help in words,” Idada-Parker said. “She not only recommended Durham Tech highly, she made sure that I did not struggle financially. She would always tell me about scholarships in the pipeline and without the Single Parent Program, I don’t think it would’ve been possible for me to go to school.”

The single parent program offsets childcare costs for students that are single parents.

In addition to helping Idada-Parker enroll in the College, Slaughter helped her find a new career. Idada-Parker had received an accounting degree in Nigeria, but she was open to new opportunities.

“Marilyn suggested the nursing program at Durham Tech because I could get a job quickly,” Idada-Parker said. “I got my license in practical nursing in one year and started working immediately. When I realized I liked it and could make it a career, I decided to go back for another year and become a registered nurse.”

Slaughter said the experience changed her own life, too.

“It feels great that I was able to inspire someone,” Slaughter said. “Valerie is a fighter, a go-getter, and so determined. She’s been an inspiration to my family also.”

Despite crossing the world to a new life, Idada-Parker said Durham Tech helped make it a smooth transition.

“Durham Tech was a great foundation for me,” Idada-Parker said. “It helped me coming from another culture to this culture because it was a small community. You meet people in the hallways and cafeteria – it had a real family atmosphere. It was like a cocoon before you’re thrown into the world.”

Idada-Parker also pointed to Dr. Louise Gooche, a former longtime program director and instructor in the Practical Nursing Program at Durham Tech. Idada-Parker said Gooche helped to coordinate child care in the evenings, which was available at neighboring North Carolina Central University.

“Dr. Gooche was very approachable and helped students that had children,” Idada-Parker said. “She connected me to child care at NCCU so that I could take night classes. Times like this made being at a smaller college much easier to navigate.”

By 1994, Idada-Parker earned her License in Practical Nursing and two associate degrees in Liberal Arts and Nursing from Durham Tech. Since she earned her bachelor’s in Nigeria, Idada-Parker was able to transfer directly into the master’s in nursing program at the University of North Carolina. She graduated in 1997 and became a Family Nurse Practitioner.

“Knowledge is never wasted. Even if you never use it, you should always look for ways to get educated,” Idada-Parker said of her advice to future students. “Always look for an opportunity to get knowledge, a certification, or a license. Always look for opportunities to educate yourself.”

Idada-Parker continued her education at UNC and in 2011 earned a post-master’s certificate as a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner and in 2014 earned her doctorate in nursing practice. Today, Idada-Parker is a clinical faculty member at the UNC School of Nursing where she supervises clinicals for students in the Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners Program. She also is a doctor at Reliable Health Services in Durham, which provides health and wellness care.

Idada-Parker said Durham Tech also has impacted her family’s life. Her daughter, Odinaka, enrolled in the inaugural class of Middle College High School, a magnet school at Durham Tech. By taking college level courses and passing placement tests, she earned her high school diploma in 2007 and her associate’s degree in 2008.

“My daughter told me about Middle College High School at Durham Tech and because I knew how powerful this thing was, I said, ‘We need to do it!’ ” Idada-Parker said. “It was a smaller community, so she didn’t get lost, it kept her on track, and saved her two years of college. It was amazing.”

Her daughter transferred to East Carolina University as a junior and then enrolled in Duke University’s Physician Assistant Program. She is now a Physician Assistant in Raleigh.

When Idada-Parker’s brother, Joseph, came to the U.S. to visit, she encouraged him to obtain a student visa and also enroll at Durham Tech. They sought advice from Patricia Hemingway, an international student counselor, and Joseph later earned an associate’s degree in accounting. He passed the Uniform Certified Public Accountant exam immediately after graduating and is now a CPA at Price Waterhouse in California.

“Durham Tech provided us an opportunity to live the American Dream,” Idada-Parker said. “Patricia Hemingway and Marilyn Slaughter were Americans that didn’t know us, but gave us an ear. We came to a foreign country, speaking differently and were accepted as we are. We were provided opportunities to get the same education that other Americans were getting without discrimination.”

A Day in the Life: Durham Tech Basic Law Enforcement Training

Cadets stand in front of Durham Tech Orange County campus and salute flagFor the last three days, Durham Technical Community College law enforcement cadets studied the art of criminal investigations.

Now, it’s time for their own mock crime scene.

It’s 8:15 a.m. on a chilly October morning and the cadets are split into groups of four inside room 109 at the Durham Tech Orange County Campus. Each group will soon see various crime scenes designed to make students think through different investigation techniques.

Several cadets begin to ask questions to Investigator Ashley Woodlief, of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, who is teaching the class.

“You didn’t have any questions the last three days, but now you’re full of questions,” Woodlief responds.

“The pressure is on because of practicals,” Cadet Stephen Mills said.

“Wait until you put the uniform on,” Woodlief replied. “That’s when the real pressure starts.”

Two students look at yellow evidence markers in mock crime sceneJust before 9 a.m., Group Two gets a call.

“Burglary at 123 Main Street,” Woodlief said.

“450 in route,” Cadet Darien Burnside replied.

Group Two enters the burglary scenario in the classroom next door where a Durham Tech EMS student is role playing a victim whose church had been broken into. Each cadet is assigned a different task: filling out the crime scene log, interviewing the victim, taking photographs of the scene, sketching the scene on paper and identifying evidence. They work together to take measurements then come together at the end for a team meeting, making sure they covered all bases.

Two classrooms down the hall, Group Three investigates the scene of a suspicious death.

“If you’re collecting hair as evidence, does it go into a paper bag or plastic bag?” Woodlief asked.

“Hair can go in either,” Cadet Lesley Guerrero answered. “Liquid forms of DNA are the only type that need to go into a paper bag because they’ll spoil in plastic. Paper bags allow liquid evidence to breathe.”

Cadets rotate through four scenarios the remainder of the day as Woodlief and Watson offered feedback and threw questions their way.

Diverse Destinations

Cadets enroll in the academy for different reasons. From patrol officers and park rangers to school resource officers and campus police. Each cadet wears a hat embroidered with the initials of their agency. Their destinations differ, but their journeys are the same.

For 21 weeks, 10 hours per day, cadets learn everything from arrest techniques to crowd management and driver training. For some, it’s the first step in their law enforcement career. Like Cadet Guerrero, 21, who worked at an organic grocery store before enrolling in the academy.

“Going from that to this is a big change, but I want to do something with my life and this is what I want to do,” Guerrero said. “I like the challenges, every single day is different here. On Day 2, we were outside doing a plank for five minutes in the rain and as I’m holding the plank I thought what did I sign myself up for? But then I thought I have to do this. I’ve got this.”

Two cadets discuss robbery scenario with notepad and cameraFor others, they’re advancing their career in law enforcement.

Cadet Travis Wilborn, 27, has been a detention officer at Person County Detention Center for five years, but wants to fill more roles in the county.

“I always wanted to be in law enforcement. When I started working in the jail, I realized this is a good opportunity to help people. Every day is different. It’s not sitting at a desk from 8 to 5, you can get out and help people and patrol the community,” Wilborn said. “This program makes me look at things differently. It teaches you to pay attention to detail and be observant when you’re out in the community. I didn’t think I could learn this much in such a short amount of time.”

Cadet Erin Baker, 24, currently works at Falls Lake State Park and wants to become a park ranger.

“This program has already changed my life drastically. It takes a special kind of woman to be in this profession. Having to take down larger suspects than ourselves is definitely a challenge,” Baker said. “I wanted to join law enforcement to protect the citizens that come into the park.”

Cadet Darien Burnside, 25, currently works for campus police at Duke University, but wants to become a school resource officer with Durham Public Schools.

“I’m the oldest of five siblings and have coached track and football so I’ve always enjoyed helping kids,” Burnside said. “The most rewarding part of law enforcement is being able to see someone you helped prosper in life. I want to help someone doing well and not just be around when things are bad.”

It Takes a Village

Corporal Ricky Watson of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, an academy instructor, describes the development of future law enforcement as taking a village to raise a child.

“We’ve got instructors from almost every agency in the area that teach at Durham Tech,” Watson said. “Everyone plays a role in this program, including instructors from Carrboro Police Department, Person County Police Department, and the Town of Hillsborough.”

Back of officer in neon police vest, standing by orange cones at the driver training centerHe also stresses the importance of the program providing a controlled environment for cadets.

“They have to demonstrate to us that they can physically make an arrest so they have to arrest us,” Watson said. “This is a stress-free, controlled environment so if they can handle this, then that’s the next step for when they go on patrol, but if they can’t handle controlled stress then how are they going to handle it on the streets when the bad guy is not going to give up?”

Playing a role in future law enforcement officers is rewarding, according to Daniel Roberson, a deputy at Orange County Sheriff’s Office and instructor.

“I enjoy watching them learn and pick up on everything. You can see it when it clicks,” Roberson said. “You see them mature in 21 weeks and get a better understanding of the profession. When they first come in, they have the TV perception, but they come through the academy and get a reality check on what actually ensues.”

Upon completion of the program, cadets will take the BLET State Comprehensive Exam before being sworn-in at their respective agencies and begin 12 to 16 weeks of field training. A graduation ceremony will take place in January 2018.

If you’re interested in Basic Law Enforcement Training at Durham Tech, please contact BLET Coordinator Doug Thomas at 919-536-7200 ext. 4411 or

Enjoy firsthand video and photos from Durham Tech Basic Law Enforcement Training.

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Durham Tech ‘Dream Team’ places third in engineering competition

L to R: Adel Fahmy, Stephen Tremont, Morgan Prince, Connor Simpson

The Durham Technical Community College ‘Dream Team’ took home third place in the Rube Goldberg Engineering Competition on November 18 hosted by Wake Technical Community College, the team’s best finish ever at the competition, where more than 80 teams competed.

Similar to the popular game ‘Mouse Trap,’ a Rube Goldberg machine is a complex contraption in which a series of devices perform simple tasks linked together to produce a domino effect.

“This competition is a great opportunity for students to learn how to design and implement an engineering project as a group and see how their skills match up against students from other schools,” said Chris Mansfield, Director of the Associate in Engineering Program at Durham Tech.

The team consisted of three Durham Tech students: Stephen Tremont, Morgan Price and Connor Simpson. They worked together throughout the fall semester to create their Rube Goldberg machine, which included low-cost materials, such as scrap pieces of wood to build their inclined planes, and a small battery-operated motor to pull a string on a gear system. The team also designed and built their own set of wooden gears, allowing them to control the timing on their machine, and leading them to score maximum points on the timing score for the project.

“The Dream Team was the best at working cohesively together and at applying what they’ve learned in class to their projects,” Mansfield said. “They complemented each other’s skills and talents, divided the work up between them, and paid close attention to the requirements of the project. Their presentation at the competition was solid, and they were able to capture the highest scores among the Durham Tech teams, thus putting them into the final round of the competition.”

Adjunct instructor, Adel Fahmy, helped the students prepare for the project and served as their faculty sponsor on competition day.

“The engineering competition instills a sense of accomplishment and validates what students have learned in class,” Mansfield said. “In addition to technical skills involved in designing and building a project, students put into practice other essential real-world skills such as teamwork and collaboration, time-management, and presentation skills.”

Durham Tech students have participated in this event every semester since 2013.