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ciWeek: 13 speakers, 5 days, 3 takeaways


Dr. Anthony Paustian is the provost for Des Moines Area Community College in West Des Moines and the author of "Imagine" and "Beware the Purple People Eaters."

Our annual Celebrate! Innovation Week (ciWeek 7) recently concluded at the Des Moines Area Community College West Des Moines Campus. Over the course of four days, 13 unique individuals descended upon the campus to share their personal stories and put their unique talents on full display. The theme for this year’s event was “Free to Dream.”

Whether it’s debunking myths, advancing digital music, chasing tornados, turning actors into our favorite monsters, writing best-selling novels, creating high-tech art, building confidence, advancing travel in space or in our own world, helping people fulfill their dreams, or just being “Iowa Nice,” the abilities of these people ran the gamut.

However, as I sat through all of the presentations, I couldn’t help but notice a few common threads that ran through all of them despite the wide variety of people and topics: identifying your passion, asking for help, and laser-like focus.

At the age of 13, Howard Berger knew he wanted to do make-up and visual effects for movies. So, he knocked on the door of the great Stan Winston and told him he would work for free just for the opportunity to learn. When Howard began in the field, there were 55 shops in Hollywood doing what he was learning to do. After years of intense focus, mastering his craft, and winning some hardware (two Emmys and an Oscar), there are now only four shops and his is considered one of, if not “the,” best.

Fresh out of college, Kari Byron knew what she wanted and she knocked at the door of Jamie Hyneman at his M5 Industries, begging for the opportunity to work as a free intern. After some persistence (and maybe even a little stalking), she prevailed. Her first day turned out to be the beginning of Mythbusters and ultimately a career in television. Kari spent a decade on the show and has turned that success into starring roles in other shows, such as Head Rush on the Science Channel and Thrill Factor on the Travel Channel.

Homer Hickam grew up in a coal-mining town in West Virginia where every male ultimately became a coal miner after high school (unless they happen to be a star athlete and received a college scholarship). As a high school kid, Homer knew what he wanted the minute he saw Sputnik fly over his house in 1957. After Homer nagged a few men who worked in the mine’s machine shop to teach him to weld and work with metals, he and some of his friends began building rockets that continued to improve after repeated attempts. Homer’s efforts ultimately won the National Science Fair, winning he, and all three of his friends, college scholarships. Homer went on to work as an engineer for NASA and write numerous NY Times #1 bestsellers. His memoir, Rocket Boys, became the basis for the movie October Sky, starring a young Jake Gyllenhaal as Homer.

Dr. Reed Timmer always knew he loved weather. He was actually quite obsessed with it, and as a young child he chased storms on his bicycle. He loved science and math while in high school and became fascinated with the science of storms. Once he received his driver’s license, and with the support of his parents, he purchased cheap, beat-up vehicles so he could more effectively chase storms. Over time and with the help and support of others who shared his passion, those beater vehicles turned into what are now known as the Dominators, a line of armor-plated, tornado-resistant research vehicles. His passion ultimately placed him in the path of over 250 tornados and in the starring role of Discovery Channel’s Storm Chasers.

Although I could continue to show this pattern with most every one of our presenters, I believe that the takeaways for all who listened to them are clear (regardless of age or one’s position in life):

  1. Dream and figure out what you want to do in life (determine where your passion lies).
  2. Seek out people who are doing what you want to do and ask them for help. Most people are usually more than willing to help others achieve their dreams.
  3. With laser-like focus, learn, practice, improve, and master your craft.

Through these three basic steps, you can achieve your dreams. However, basic doesn’t mean simple. It won’t be easy, but nothing great in life ever is. And who knows, perhaps in some future ciWeek you could be telling your story and helping others achieve their dreams.

©2016  Anthony D. Paustian

PaustianHeadFor more information about Dr. Anthony Paustian, provost for Des Moines Area Community College in West Des Moines, please visit his website at www.adpaustian.com


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