Alumni Spotlight: Mark Engstrom

Alumni Spotlight: Mark Engstrom’s Circle of Life | Holy Family

Mark Engstrom: He was in Holy Family’s first freshman class, graduating in 2004 with unbridled curiosity and ambition. He’s since lived in six cities, traveled the world and has landed back in Minnesota, with an incredible amount of wisdom and advice for Holy Family students and grads.

“The biggest thing Holy Family taught—achieve goals with integrity. It’s something that has served me my entire career.” —Mark Engstrom, 2004 Holy Family graduate

Alumni Profile: Mark Engstrom

Graduated: 2004

Elementary/Middle School: International School of Minnesota; John Ireland, Hopkins

Universities Attended: Purdue University (undergrad); Cornell University (MBA)

Degrees: Bachelor’s Degree in Construction Engineering (2008); MBA (2014)

Holy Family Activities:

  • Math League
  • Student Council
  • Golf

HF: You mentioned in our Passages article that your first assignment after graduating from Purdue (2008) was in Idaho. What was that experience like?

Mark: I was there for four years. At first, it was temporary. I moved from Minnesota to Idaho to work on Cargill’s biogas projects. Basically, we were taking cow manure and turning it into electricity. We’d collect the manure in a big tank about the size of a football field and 20 feet deep, heat it and collect the methane gas, which was run through a genset.  A genset is essentially a locomotive engine with a generator attached to it. When the economy tanked, Cargill scaled back businesses and cut back workforce on that project from 40 to 7. I stayed on and built out operations and optimized the portfolio. It was a great way to cut my teeth on operations and get to tinker and satisfy my curiosity.

HF: How do you think you’ve changed since graduating from Holy Family?

Mark: It’s been 14 years, I lived in six different states, had many jobs and interacted with many types of people who have contributed to the diversity of my life experience. It’s taken me out of my comfort zone and has helped me develop a greater sense of empathy. I now have a better understanding of all the different struggles people and businesses have. This has helped me both personally and professionally. It’s improved my ability to listen and to make people feel heard.

HF: What kind of specific skills did you learn at Holy Family that helped contribute to your success?

Mark: Holy Family wasn’t only focused on the academics. It included a Catholic-based curriculum that taught many core values, including stewardship and building a high EQ (Emotional Quotient). As you make your way through life, you realize the true value of EQ. It develops empathy for others and allows you to hear what others are trying to communicate. Ultimately, empathy helps you to target actions for maximum impact.

HF: Which Holy Family teachers had the greatest impact on what you are accomplishing today?

 That’s a hard question. So many are dedicated and willing to help students outside the classroom. It sets Holy Family apart. All of my teachers there were willing to do that and enjoyed doing that. If I had to name a few, I’d say:

  • Gary Kannel (Math) and Jim Walker (Chemistry). They helped build the technical foundation to be successful in engineering and translate that knowledge to finance.
  • Jorge and Jena Oconitrillo (Spanish). They helped me take my Spanish to the next level, learning the stuff outside of the textbook. I was able to talk about current events and hold conversations all in Spanish. That had a huge impact and made traveling to other countries much easier and relatable.
  • Case Unverzagt (English). U taught me how to write and made me appreciate clean and effective communication.
  • Doug Bosh (Theology). He taught me a simple lesson: Don’t be too hard on yourself. If you make a mistake, course-correct and move past it, which is a useful skill.

It’s great to see so many of them still teaching at Holy Family.

HF: How has Holy Family helped you be successful in pursuing your dreams?

Mark: I haven’t felt that any doors have been closed in front of me, which is all you can hope for. That was one of the struggles coming out of Holy Family. There are so many doors open that it can be hard to choose a path. Many students may think they are making a definitive choice each deliberate step along the way. I’ve learned there are lots of different paths to success. Take a risk and do something you’re passionate about.

Finally, don’t forget to leverage the deep network of Holy Family alumni and parents.  We are more than willing to help get you in front of the right people so that you realize your dreams.

Click on the image below to read more about alumni in STEM careers.

Investments Impact Every Holy Family Student

STEAM Funding Impacts Every Holy Family Student

Generous donors attending the 2017 Holy Family Spirit of Fire fundraiser showed passionate support for STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics). Just how enthusiastic? More than $100,000 was committed through a special one-evening “Fund-a-Need” campaign targeted to preparing all students for the wave of upcoming STEAM career opportunities.

Besides a groundswell of support for the cause, this wasn’t just any Fund-a-Need project, says Holy Family President Michael Brennan. This one was special and has become visible throughout Holy Family classrooms and activities.

“The beauty of this Fund-a-Need is that it impacts every student coming through the building,” Brennan says. “It didn’t single out a specific department or grade level to serve as the beneficiary; rather, it touches multiple dimensions for our educational programing and created a real sense of equity experienced by staff and students alike.”

The first addition from the STEAM Fund-a-Need was the purchase of a large-format 3D printer in the Technology Lab last fall. By the end of this school year, all capital equipment being added through the STEAM Fund-a-Need campaign will be purchased and in place to benefit Holy Family students.

“This Fund-a-Need gave us an opportunity to bring different departments together and ask what was needed outside of the conservative budgets we typically work with,” Brennan says. “It was a chance to ask, ‘What do we need to take things to the next level?’ ”

Here is a list of significant investments made from the infusion of STEAM funding, and how each impacts students at Holy Family:

SCIENCE

Investments:

  • 20 Wolfe Beta Elite Monocular Microscopes – Complete January 2019
  • New flume hood in Chemistry Lab – Ready for 2019-20 school year

Benefits to Holy Family Students:

  • Students entering biological fields in college will be better prepared for laboratory work, having experience with higher level scope mechanics and design.
  • New microscope features, such as better resolution, create a superior lab experience. Students will be able to see better, identify and understand cellular structures and processes.
  • The new microscopes are low maintenance and are expected to last 15 to 20 years.
  • The new flume hood, a glass-enclosed exhaust fan that pushes air and toxic gases out of the building, provides additional space for AP Chemistry students to safely perform a broader range of lab activities.

Science Department Insights

“The science department had previously set aside budget to purchase a small number of these microscopes,” says biology teacher Josh Dwyer. “Funds from the Fund-a-Need helped us reach a 1:1 ratio of students to microscopes for all biological labs, including Biology, Anatomy & Physiology and AP Biology. Essentially this purchase will impact every single student that comes through Holy Family.”

TECHNOLOGY & ENGINEERING

Investments:

  • Large 3D Printer – December 2017
  • CNC (Computer Numeric Control) Milling Machine– September 2018
  • Multiple-Materials 3D Printer – September 2018

Benefits to Holy Family Students:

  • Students in both engineering graphics and robotics have more hands-on learning opportunities by creating more custom parts and prototypes for testing.
  • CNC machine introduces students to the highly sought skill of machine programming, adding a vocational option in the skilled trades.
  • Architecture students can create scale models using the large-format 3D printer.
  • The Multiple-Materials 3D Printer has a 4-head extruder, providing additional flexibility in creating new parts for competitive robots designed and built by the Holy Family Robotics team.

 Technology Department Insights

“Holy Family technology and engineering students now have access to equipment that meets or exceeds other area high schools,” says technology instructor Nick Livermore. “The Multiple-Material 3D printer was on backorder because of high demand from schools and makers. And once we received the CNC machine, we had to wait for new electric to be installed. Everything should be running by Christmas–the improvements we’ll see in the tech lab are worth the wait–and just in time for the heavy robotics building season.”

ARTS

Investments:

  • Digital Kiln – June 2018
  • Kawai GL30 – October 2018

Benefits to Holy Family Students:

  • The new Digital Kiln provides more consistent heat regulation, resulting in better results and outcomes.
  • Up to 75 clay pieces can be fired at once in the new kiln, nearly doubling the volume of the previous kiln. The volume increase is credited to consistent heat throughout the entire kiln.
  • The new kiln, which heats up to 2,200°F, offers improved safety with upgraded ventilation as part of the installation and purchase.
  • The new piano is a high-quality addition to the music program, replacing a used piano that was in place since the school opened nearly 20 years ago.
  • The student body, alumni and parents will experience the new piano at the upcoming Fall Coffee House (Nov. 1) and Spirit of Fire fund-raiser (Nov. 10).

 Art/Music Department Insights

“If you don’t have a functioning kiln, you don’t have a clay program,” says art teacher Shelagh Gamble. “This was a necessary investment. The old kiln was starting to cost more to fix than it was to replace it. We use 4,000 pounds of clay a year with 100 kids taking classes. It is a great investment!”

“I’m looking forward to the Coffee House when the piano makes its debut,” says Brennan. “It’s not every day you buy a new piano. We had one of our teachers ‘test drive’ different models and came back with a No. 1 choice. That’s what we’ll be hearing.”

MATHEMATICS

Investments:

  • Faculty Training, Minnesota Council of Teachers of Math, Spring Conference, Duluth – May 2018

Benefits to Holy Family Students:

  • Faculty learned enhanced methods of introducing technology into classroom teaching methods.
  • Training focused on developing “thinkers” and “problem solvers” through math concepts.
  • Faculty was introduced to new standards to better prepare students for college mathematics and success in their chosen fields.

Math Department Insights

“This wasn’t just about shiny objects,” says Brennan. “It was energizing and inspiring seeing the Math Department seeking professional development and craving to better themselves as teachers. It supports the model of lifelong learning and seeking to always become the best version of ourselves.”

What’s On Tap?

According to Brennan, the investments made from the STEAM Fund-a-Need has infused excitement throughout Holy Family, for both students and faculty. His goal is to carry on that spirit not only this school year, but also many more to come.

“Something like this builds optimism. It becomes contagious when you see contributions being spent to support the cause as they were intended,” Brennan said. “We’ll be planning a new Fund-a-Need campaign for this year’s Spirit of Fire. We’re hoping for the same enthusiastic response. Hopefully, last year’s STEAM Fund-a-Need affirms these gifts are being well stewarded.”

Click HERE to read more about last year’s Spirit of Fire and Strom Engineering’s support of Holy Family’s investment in science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics.

Behind the Scenes: Holy Family Robotics

What is it? Holy Family’s robotics club, competing under the team name PyroBotics, is an opportunity for students interested in programming, engineering and robotics classes to form a competitive team of robo-builders. The team competes in competitions sponsored by FIRST®, encouraging students to immerse themselves in science and technology.

  • FIRST® Tech Challenge (FTC): Small-scale, regional autonomous robotic competition open to middle- and high-school students. Offered fall semester.
  • FIRST® Robotics Competition (FRC): Industrial-scaled autonomous robots designed by high-school students compete in a full-scale worldwide game. Offered spring semester.

What is the FIRST® Robotics Competition? Think NASCAR meets Transformers, giving students a chance to experience what professional engineers do every day. Billed as the “ultimate sport for the mind,” this competition is all about teamwork. Students build and program an industrial-scale robot that performs programmed tasks in a competitive arena. With more than 10 members on a team, working with professional volunteer mentors, the competition combines the excitement of sports with the rigors of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).

Brandon Bueltel working on protype for cube intake with programmers Colin Dosedel and John Vogel.

Who can compete? Students completing Holy Family’s Technical Studies and Engineering Graphics II.

Do students earn credit? Students enrolled in Robotics 1, 2 or 3 earn .5 credit for each course. Middle-school students can now take these courses and earn Holy Family credit, enabling them to participate in robotics in ninth grade.

What skills do members of the robotics team learn?

  • Team collaboration
  • Leadership
  • Problem solving
  • Programming
  • Mechanical engineering
  • Electrical engineering
  • CAD
  • Design
  • Pneumatics
  • 3D printing

Learn About Holy Family’s 60+ Extracurricular Activities HERE.

Robotics: Holy Family’s Engineering Tradition

Look Where He Is Now!

Long before 2012 graduate Brian Kubisiak began high school at Holy Family, he was already rock solid on the fundamentals of computer programming. It is something his dad taught him early on, a second language that came completely natural to him and immediately drew him into the Innovation Lab at Holy Family.

“I started taking engineering classes with Nick (Livermore) my freshman year,” Kubisiak recalls. “When he proposed starting a robotics team, I eagerly accepted this opportunity to further my education in technology. I was looking for any chance to gain experience in programming, both through classes and extracurricular activities.”

In 2009, Kubisiak and a handful of like-minded students joined Livermore to launch the robotics team at Holy Family. They competed in the FIRST® Tech Challenge , a competition sponsored by FIRST® -For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. The organization, founded long before the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) acronym caught on, focuses on inspiring young people to immerse themselves in science and technology.

Taste of Engineering

Competing in FIRST events offers students opportunities well beyond building robots. FIRST gives students a chance to experience and pursue STEM-related fields, inspiring them to become leaders and innovators while gaining important life skills, like collaboration, teamwork and problem solving.

“Robotics was a great learning experience for me, and many of the lessons I learned about working with a team are still relevant to my career,” Kubisiak says.

Kubisiak graduated from Holy Family with 5 credits of technology, 4 more than are required to graduate. He and his teammates also led the robotics team to the next level, launching the school’s entry into the FIRST® Robotics Competition, where teams of students build industrial-sized robots to compete in an intense game of survival against high schools from around the world. It’s billed as the “ultimate sport for the mind.”

Building on Tradition

Dosedel releasing the rope for the robot to climb.

Early success has led to a thriving Holy Family robotics team. Last year’s team qualified for the World Championships held in St. Louis, the second to do that since the program began. Perhaps that was the motivating factor that brought 10 of the 18 robotics students to the Innovation Lab on Student Assistance Day (SAD) on a chilly January morning this year.

With just a few weeks left to troubleshoot and fine-tune, it was all hands on deck. “Mona Lisa,” the name given to this year’s robot, needed to be “bagged up” and shipped to the FRC district competition site by late February. The competition, however, won’t start until a month later, March 28 to March 31, at the University of Minnesota’s Williams Arena. Follow their matches at https://www.thebluealliance.com/events where you will find updates and links to live video.

If there were such a thing as a card up your sleeve in robotics, it would have to be a second bot the team built named “Frankenstein.” A replica of Mona Lisa, this spec-bot allows the team to test, tweak and troubleshoot in the weeks leading up to the competition. Any modifications made to Frankenstein will be applied to Mona Lisa in the “pits” during competition weekend.

Commitment to Team

What’s most impressive-the students, eager to push the boundaries of their technical comfort zones, come to the Innovation Lab on their own time. Just as they have each weekend since January 6, when the details and tasks for this year’s FIRST® Robotics Competition were streamed live worldwide.

“One of the biggest goals of robotics is to understand the teamwork that goes with it,” Livermore says. “I’m always impressed by their resilience not to give up. Some kids stay here for 10 hours on a Saturday, and will not give up until the robot is working.”

The group works in small teams, each playing a vital role to the completed project. Some build, others program. They test to see who is best at driving the bot in a makeshift arena that emulates what they’ll face during competition, built by volunteer parents. Adult mentors, including Livermore; math teacher Gary Kannel; career engineers Bill Barnett and Tom Barrett; and Tufts University student and Holy Family grad Claire Pernat help students troubleshoot the robot or system programs.

Programmers Dosedel and Vogel and Advisor Kannel work on programming autonomous phase for the robot.

Despite homework, winter sports and other club activities, robotics team members have only six weeks to complete their FRC robot. Robotics captain Nikolai Charchenko works around his varsity hockey schedule, as does sophomore Sydney Paulsen (shown in the top image).

Lead programmer Colin Dosedel, in his second robotics year as a junior, is captain of the Math League and is involved in Mock Trial, Knowledge Bowl and Honors Society. Freshman Jeremy Schumacher competes in the Math League, Quiz Bowl and Mock Trial. They all agree robotics is something that has to take priority in their busy schedules.

“It’s a team,” says Schumacher, who was introduced to robotics when Holy Family’s team visited his middle school, St. Hubert Catholic School. “People are counting on you to get the work done. If you don’t come in, that means you’re letting the whole team down.”

Paulsen, one of three girls competing on this year’s team, says, “You have to make sacrifices. This is important-you can go out with your friends other times.”

The Task at Hand

Teams design their bots to compete in a full-scale robo-battle with new rules and tasks to accomplish each year. This year’s game, called “FIRST® Power Up,” requires each robot to lift square weights up to 7-1/2 feet in the air and place them on a large balance scale, with the goal of tipping the scale in your team’s favor. The task put so much stress on the robot’s lift that the Holy Family team was forced to disassemble and redesign the lift arms to add more support.

Adam Beer and Nikolai Charchenko work with Livermore on the elevator to lift competition cubes.

Charchenko is in charge of keeping the entire team on task, making sure there is plenty of time to have all the bugs worked out before it’s “go time.”

“It (robotics) makes me think in a critical way while also working as a team, to get a big project done,” he says. “That’s something you can’t get from other extracurricular activities.”

Dosedel agrees the deep-thinking collaboration robotics requires is something unique.

“I like working together to accomplish one goal,” he says. “A lot of people might want to do it all themselves. But you really can’t do that. It takes lots of ideas and to be open, not closed-minded on your own opinions.

Many Doors and Possibilities

While Charchenko’s sights are set on a career that includes hockey, engineering is his fallback plan.

“Robotics will definitely play a part in what degree I’ll take in college,” he says. “I heard that mechanical engineering is improving past inventions and making them better today. It’s hands-on engineering. I like having that visual idea and showing people.”

For Paulsen, robotics provides her an opportunity to try new things before committing to a degree track in college.

“I think being in robotics will confirm that I want to go into engineering in college,” she says. “I like solving a problem and getting my hands dirty until it gets done. It’s helpful knowing there are more females going into engineering and knowing that there are other people interested in the same things as me.”

Dosedel likes trying new things, and programming is just another challenge.

“I’m open to every thing,” he says. “I never thought I’d come to Holy Family and program a robot. I want to have an open mind to try new activities and learn new things.”

Picking Up STEAM

The future of Holy Family robotics is bright. This year at the Spirit of Fire Fundraiser, the fund-a-need focus was STEAM education (the added “A” stands for Arts). A portion of the $98,000 raised was invested into the Innovation Lab, where two additional 3D printers have been added, with plans for a CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machine this summer.

“All robots in the competition have to have at least one 3D printed piece,” Livermore explains. “Next year, we’re hoping to make an entire 3D printed robot. The only thing metal will be the motors and gears.”

Livermore is proud of his students accomplishments during and after they are a part of the robotics program.

To get middle-school students into Holy Family tech program and robotics quicker, Livermore started a pilot program three years ago. Tech classes are offered free to seventh and eighth graders during the first period. They can earn up to .5 technology credit for each class, which can be applied to Holy Family graduation.

“By completing both Technical Studies and Engineering Graphics II in middle school, ninth-grade students can immediately join robotics their first year,” Livermore says.

And that is called opportunity.

“Sometimes I’m kind of jealous,” he admits. “We have kids come through robotics that are now in biomedical engineering. They’re working on drones for Amazon. We have kids who are now programming at Rockwell Collins. They’re accomplishing things for huge companies and out there doing what they started in high school.”

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