The Billings Outpost

Rocky students explore religion, literature

Rocky Mountain College

No one can cram the themes of religion and literature into a month, but with radical openness and acceptance, three young Rocky Mountain College students took the summer session opportunity to study with Wilbur Wood, a poet, writer and gardener who has taught part-time at RMC for 20 years. 

Summer classes at RMC offer opportunities to take a science, math or liberal arts class such as the 300-level Religion and Literature course, co-listed in English and Philosophy and Religious Thought. Community members may also register for these RMC courses.

Wood lives where he grew up, in a stone house in Roundup that his grandfather built in 1911. At intervals, Wood was city editor of the San Francisco Bay Guardian during the Vietnam War, earned a master’s degree in creative writing at San Francisco State, and gave commentary on National Public Radio. He has taught all levels of writing at RMC and serves on the Montana Arts Council.

His three students had what Wood called “considerably different experience with religion.” One student was a committed Christian, a “straight-out Lutheran,” Wood said, with six years of military service, much of it overseas, as a linguist.

The second, Alice-Marie Brady (’15) of Wray, Colo., wrote how her dogmatic Sunday school teacher had frustrated her Presbyterian heritage. The teacher argued in anger when Brady proposed, like Nikos Kazantzakis, that the Devil is God’s brother. Brady now hopes to be a screenwriter.

A third student, Danielle Wilcox (’14) of Livermore, Calif., described herself as “not a religious person,” but Wood called her “spiritual, yes.” Wilcox said the course “made me look into myself, trust ourselves a little more.”

Wood’s first assignment asked students to explain the difference between religion and spirituality, then discuss a spiritual experience of their own. Those papers began as what Wood called “a good first paragraph,” and went through three rewrites during the course. The military veteran explained, “I was surprised by how much freedom we had in writing. It was hard to narrow to a specific topic. ‘How long?’ we asked. ‘As long as it needs to be,’ he replied.”

For group poetry, written the last two weeks line by line onto the blackboard, Wilcox said, “I surprised myself. I went up and put up what I was feeling. We talk about anything in this class. We all have our own input. It’s never utterly wrong, which is nice,” she said.

All learning is self-learning, because all of our understanding goes through the filter of our own perspective. The gift of self-exploration precedes learning about the “outside” world. Yet philosophy is only useful as it applies beyond us. We come round, with enough insight or experience, to accepting our common understanding in each other’s voices. Wood said, “My role is to help, in whatever way I can, people to articulate their own perspectives.”

He likes to teach seminar-style as much as he can.

St. Teresa of Avila said, “All the way to Heaven is Heaven,” Wood reminded the class. The journey of inquiry is its own reward, and the trials of life become its joys. The class studied a few persecuted mystics from varied traditions, whose words ring true to later generations. “It’s a real

gift to have these three students and their different lives,” he said.

Four writing assignments in the month-long course each required multiple revisions in the evenings. Readings included “The Great Divorce” by C.S. Lewis, which uses a bus ride as an allegory of our journey from purgatory; “The Distracted Preacher” by Thomas Hardy, which examines issues of morality versus legality; and millennia of poetry from Robert Bly’s anthology “The Soul Is Here for its Own Joy,” which Bly almost titled “Baskets to Hold God.”

Wood meant to read “Levels of Life” by Julian Barnes, which explores ballooning as an allegory for love in its risk and alteration of perspective. Barnes dissects the reality of our mourning for the inevitable loss that follows love.

This year, Wood’s month-long class did not have time. Jay Cassel, professor of religious thought since 1983, teaches the same course at RMC in the fall with his own perspective, choice of authors, and dedication to a liberal education.

Last Updated on Saturday, 19 July 2014 10:39

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Belt girls sing anthem at Big Sky State Games

The fifth annual Big Sky State Games National Anthem contest winners are 18- and 16-year-old sisters Josie and Johanna Stinson, and 17-year-old Melody Highfill from Belt.

Josie says when she received word they won the contest she and her sister were on vacation and “freaked out.” They called Melody, who was also very excited to be chosen to sing at this year’s Opening Ceremonies.

Josie, a recent high school graduate, Johanna and Melody attend Belt High School. They sang in their school’s choir together and decided to pair up for this contest. While they all enjoy singing, they didn’t want to face the crowd alone.

The girls like listening to the popular music on

the radio today. They also enjoy the bands Bastille and Imagine Dragons, whose songs they sang with their school at their year-end concert.

Outside of the singing realm, all three girls are athletes too. Basketball is a sport they have in common and Josie and Johanna also participate in golf and volleyball. The girls say they are very appreciative of everyone who voted for them.

The National Anthem contest began in April. Over the course of six weeks contestants posted a video of themselves singing the National Anthem to You Tube or Facebook. A panel of professional judges together chose the top five singers, and voting for the winner was open to the public May 9-16.  

Josie, Johanna, and Melody will sing the national Anthem at the 29th annual Big Sky State Games Opening Ceremonies on Friday, July 18, at Wendy’s Field at Daylis Stadium in Billings.

Gates open at 5:30 p.m. and the Parade of Athletes begins at 7:30 p.m.

To register for the Big Sky State Games visit www.bigskygames.org or call (406) 254-7426 for more information.

Big Sky State Games Major Sponsors are Kampgrounds of America, First Interstate Bank, Scheels, and BlueCross BlueShield of Montana. Wendy’s sponsors opening ceremonies.

Last Updated on Thursday, 17 July 2014 10:38

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Junior League golf here

PGA Junior League Golf, which calls itself one of the most innovative programs introduced by a major sport, is new to the Billings area. PGA Junior League Golf gives kids 13 and under the opportunity to learn to play golf in a fun, social and team environment, a news release said.

In the past year, the popularity of PGA Junior League Golf has skyrocketed. In fact, 2013 saw a 345 percent increase in participation over the previous year and growth for 2014 is projected to double, reaching 1,500 teams with 18,000 players. Following are the facilities with teams in the Billings market:

• Eagle Rock Golf Course

• Briarwood Golf Course & Country Club

• Lake Hills Golf Club

• Hilands Golf Club

• Laurel Golf Club

• Yellowstone Country Club

PGA Junior League Golf teams are composed of young golfers (boys and girls) with no prior playing experience required. The teams play nine-hole matches in a two-person scramble format.

The format of play reinforces the team aspect and limits the personal pressure that players often feel.

Additionally, coaches can substitute players every three holes, so the entire team of golfers has the opportunity to participate.

Teams play regular-season matches before entering city and regional championships. Each regional champion advances to the PGA Junior League Golf Championship held Oct. 24-26 at TPC Sugarloaf in Duluth, Ga.

Team Georgia captured the 2013 Championship at TPC Sugarloaf.

To learn more about PGA Junior League Golf, visit PGAJrLeagueGolf.com.

Last Updated on Thursday, 17 July 2014 10:36

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Upward Bound opens ‘doors of opportunity’

MSU Billings News Services

A pioneer of college access and academic excellence, Montana State University Billings’ Upward Bound has served students from the Billings school district for nearly two decades.

Now 50 years old, Upward Bound is an outgrowth of the Johnson administration’s War on Poverty, and is one among three federally funded programs under an umbrella called TRiO designed to prepare low-income and first-generation students for college and success.

The centerpiece of Upward Bound is an academic summer residential program where students attend enrichment classes at MSU Billings, mimicking a college schedule.

“We are all here to advantage our way of succeeding in life,” said Sarah Prescott, a West High School 10th-grader. “Upward Bound opens up wide doors of opportunities for us that we otherwise wouldn’t have.”

Prescott, a second-year returning Upward Bound student, is one of 36 high school students participating in the six-week program. Students stay and dine in residential halls while at MSU Billings, taking part in mock college experiences.

The program consists of classes including math, science, English and German languages, art and online coursework — all of which are geared toward helping students succeed in their high school course work and prepare for college.

MSU Billings faculty and school district teachers develop the curriculum, highlighting a week-long field trip that focuses on a different theme each year increasing students’ exposure to various career opportunities.

“The goal is to show that coursework is interrelated, integrated and relevant,” MSU Billings Upward Bound Director Dan Benge said.

Last year, the summer program curriculum focused on forensic science. During a field trip to Colorado, students visited with crime scene detectives and other experts while touring a crime scene lab and an evidence lockup lab. Students also toured three universities meeting with various professors and students.

The curriculum this summer focuses on global health, a topic voted on by returning Upward Bound students. The group left for their field trip to Utah this morning where they will visit medical schools, hospitals and will attend a health and human rights presentation. For Prescott, the summer field trip is an opportunity of a lifetime.

“I’m considering internal medicine as a career,” Prescott said. “The trip and activities planned will be such a great opportunity to meet medical professors and medical students.”

Students begin Upward Bound in the ninth grade and participate through their senior year, meeting one Saturday of every month during the school year.

“We are embedded in the schools and we develop relationships with students early on, ” Benge said. “We follow them all the way through high school, hopefully into college, and even into their careers.”

Benge said that he and the Upward Bound staff help facilitate students’ transition from high school to college by assisting students find funding and resources for college through scholarships, grants, free tutoring and test preparation.

“We work closely with each participating student to help them choose their right path, and acquire the skills to achieve their goals,” Benge said.

There are five Upward Bound programs statewide and roughly 400 students served. Of those, MSU Billings serves 75.

“Unfortunately, the program only serves 7 percent of the eligible population,” Benge said. “But we are a good return on the investment.”

More than three quarters of all students who have participated in Upward Bound and other TRiO programs have enrolled in college following high school graduation, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Sonja Choriki, a senior criminal justice major at MSUB and vice president of the student body government, is the student coordinator of the Upward Bound summer program, working as a liaison between team leaders, students and their parents. Educational Talent Search—also a TRiO program—recruited her when she was a student at Skyview High. A first-generation college student, Choriki says she recognizes something of herself in the high school students.

“Access to education is extremely important, but students don’t always know that college is an option,” Choriki said. “Upward Bound and Talent Search shows students that college is an option for everyone.”

“Sometimes there’s not a lot of positive influence for lower-income students that tells them to reach for more and push themselves,” Choriki added. “I think Upward Bound does a fantastic job of instilling confidence, exactly what’s needed for a lot of these students who want to go college.”

For more information, contact Dan Benge, director of Upward Bound, at 657-2180 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Upward Bound Summer Academic Program Student Coordinator Sonja Choriki at 690-5466 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Last Updated on Thursday, 10 July 2014 09:51

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3 orientation sessions remain at MSU Billings

MSU Billings News Services

Orientation and registration sessions for the fall 2014 semester at Montana State University Billings are under way and will continue through the summer.

MSU Billings began offering overnight, adult, transfer and international student orientations starting in June.

“The purpose of freshman orientation at MSUB is to ensure that new students have a successful transition and integration into college life,” said Tammi Watson, director of new student and retention services.

All incoming high school seniors who are attending the four-year campus or City College in the fall semester are required to participate in an overnight orientation session.

This mandatory orientation serves as an introduction to the campus and affords students the opportunity to meet other freshman, faculty and staff before they begin their journey at MSUB. Students can also get help with advising, financial aid and registration.

“Freshman orientation is what we feel is the first step into what a student will experience over his or her next four years in college,” said Kurt Laudicina, assistant director of First Year Experience and Retention. “It’s important for students to be academically and socially integrated into college, and freshman orientation helps build that foundation early.”

Emma Guyer, a senior education major, will be a student leader at orientation for her third time this summer. She said her freshman orientation started her on her path as a college student.

“It was an awakening experience, and I remember the moment when I thought ‘Oh, I’m a college student,’” Guyer said. “I gained such valuable information and met some of my best friends.”

Overnight sessions will be offered for freshman students and their families on the following remaining dates: July 10-11; July 24-25; and Aug. 7-8.

MSU Billings orientations this summer are not only targeted for new students who are transitioning from high school to college, but will include specialized sessions for transfer students and adult learners.

These students can participate in orientation at either the City College campus or the university campus, depending on their four-year or two-year degree options. Adult and transfer orientations will be Aug. 12 and Aug. 15.

To reserve your spot at any of the orientation sessions listed above, visit www.msubillings.edu/fye/orientation or call the Office of New Student and Retention Services at 406-657-2888.

The Office of International Studies and Outreach will welcome international students to MSU Billings with an orientation session Aug. 25-28. International students may call 657-1705 for more information.

Last Updated on Thursday, 03 July 2014 15:55

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Not In Our School class helps children fit in

Rocky Mountain College

Our calling toward our creative potential demands that we work well with others. No one does that perfectly, or else the world’s problems would’ve been solved long ago.

The stumbling block comes when our mentors don’t treat everyone as a worthy individual, according to a national Not In Our School leadership training held June 20 at Rocky Mountain College. About 25 professionals reinforced best practices to increase tolerance and decrease bullying in schools and communities.

Eran Thompson of Not In Our Town-Billings reminded attendees of his favorite Martin Luther King quote: “Peace is not the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.”

“We’ve all grown up in this dirty fish tank of racism,” said Dr. Becki Cohn-Vargas, director of Not In Our School, who has twice briefed President Obama’s education staff at the White House on building acceptance of individuals in schools. NIOS teaches schools how to stand together for safety, inclusion and acceptance. Best practices include involving students in defining bullying, dissolving stereotypes, effective intervening in hurtful situations, creating “upstanders” from bystanders, and lots of role-playing.

When she was curriculum director for the Palo Alto, Calif., school district, her community said, “We’re a very liberal, progressive community. We don’t need this.”

“Then the students started talking,” said Cohn-Vargas; “then two students were harassed.”

As a preliminary meeting to the national Not In Our Town conference in Billings, the meeting brought together community leaders in children’s services from around the nation, including principal, teacher and student trailblazers, along with a victim witness coordinator, mental health specialist, state civil rights attorney and state assistant attorney general.

Sharing a voice with the voiceless engenders strong emotions, both in people with and without social power. Teens and children feel emotions intensely, but they aren’t born with the maturity to prevent others’ lack of tolerance from affecting their self-perception, to know all things will pass.

“Students are more equitable, available, and malleable than adults,” said a lawyer attending the gathering. “When they’re negative, they’re reflecting it [adults’ poor role modeling] back to us.”

“When a kid is told ‘you’re not who you think you are, you are who I say you are,’ that identity theft is like being hit in the head with a rock,” said Moses Robinson of Rochester, N.Y., a school resource officer and 28-year police officer.

The NIOS training works to create identity-safe schools, where a person’s social identification is an asset rather than a barrier to success. The meeting resounded with stories of successes.

Matt Grant, a principal in Olympia, Wash., told the journey of a boy who had no access to a shower, was made fun of, became a bully, and then learned to describe his pain to the assembled school. The incident ended with 400 high school hands stuck in a heart shape. “We depend on these people who used to say nothing,” he said, “then learn to articulate their self-worth; then they graduate, and we need to strengthen all over again.”

Trina Ritter, coordinator for a Quincy, Calif., crisis center that works in her local schools, teaches students tai chi for its principles of self-centering. “I didn’t realize I had inner peace,” her pupils say.

At Rocky Mountain College, student government and staff sponsor Stand Up RMC, a forum for the campus to engage respect and wellness issues.

Curt Boehm, a general manager of Sodexo in charge of dining services at the college, donated lunch to participants and listened through the day. Since 2010, he has worked on the Champions of Diversity subcommittee of a Cross Market Diversity Council set up by his corporation of 128,000 employees.

“Immersing ourselves in diverse cultures, in staff, and in our management team has made us better operationally and financially,” he said. “Everybody in the world’s been a witness, a victim, or a part of [bullying],” he said. “It creates a passion to make change.”

Last Updated on Thursday, 03 July 2014 15:54

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Color, curriculum join in summer art camp

Rocky Mountain College

Grace Bailey taught the classic dictum, “Draw what you see, not what you think you see” at summer art camp.Sally McIntosh’s summer art camp at RMC helps build the next generation of artists. From June 9 to 13, in the grand collegiate art spaces of Technology Hall on the RMC campus, McIntosh and staff offered 22 classes a day to 50 8- to 14-year-olds. Students took home portfolios packed with jewelry, prints, costume designs, kites, drawings and paintings they toiled over all week. But more importantly, they learned the value of process over product; they became artists by learning from working.

A mage of the Billings art scene, McIntosh has refined her Summer Art Academy for 14 years.

“Our 11 teachers are all professional artists,” she said. Tori Waldrip, art teacher at Lewis & Clark Middle School in Billings, joined McIntosh’s first camp years ago at age 10, and now teaches printmaking to campers.

The camp charges tuition, so “people have to really buy into it. Consequently, I get kids who really want to be here,” McIntosh said. Hungry to see healthy role models in art, “suddenly they’re surrounded by like-minded” peers. McIntosh’s advice to them is threefold: “learn new techniques, listen to your teachers, and make a new friend.”

Art is all about relationships, about mutual understanding and elevation; the lonely misunderstood artist is a myth built on the occasional isolation of people who see more intensely than most people do. McIntosh builds her young community of artists by exposing them to artistic peers as well as new practices. She publishes a daily paper for campers to introduce them to one another.

“These are very special friends they make,” she said.

Cruz Martinez, a sophomore at Billings Senior High School, has returned three years and is now a director’s assistant who acts as the master of ceremonies for the student talent show, among other duties.

“I like drawing,” he said. “It’s useful because I’m really involved in theater.”

Cheyenne Allen, 14, traveled from Butte for the camp. She said the hardest part is “getting up in the morning.” Her classes talk about techniques, tools, organizing oneself in a studio and working efficiently.

Parents enjoyed an open studio Friday afternoon. “The environment of the RMC campus is so wonderful,” McIntosh said, because it brims with role models of art and education.

At the Downtown Billings Artwalk on the evening of Aug. 1, Global Village will exhibit artwork from the summer art camp at 2720 Third Ave. N.

This year’s faculty included professional artists Stephen Haraden (acrylics), Mana Lesman (watercolor), Julie Pederson (drawing), Susan Germer (jewelry), Terry Zee Lee and Drake Smith (kites), Tori Waldrip (printmaking), Sarah Brewer (makeup artistry and costume design), Grace Bailey (drawing), Cassy Crafton Kramer (clay), and Grace Frankforter (sculpture).

Last Updated on Thursday, 26 June 2014 22:00

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Chamber forms NextGen

The Billings Chamber of Commerce has announced the formation of NextGen, a young professionals’ sector of the organization. NextGen will allow the Chamber to better serve Millennials (ages 21-39), foster relationships with them and connect them with the Chamber, a news release said.

The group will establish its own objectives, priorities and structure and work with the Chamber to connect Millennials to other Chamber members and initiatives.

The NextGen network exists to foster relationships among young professionals, develop business opportunities, support civic involvement, and promote an overall investment in the future of our community.

The group’s mission is to connect, enhance and inspire Billings’ young professionals to make a positive difference within the community.

The Executive Council consists of Jessica Baldwin (Webgrain and Billings365.com), Brian Brown (First Interstate Bank), Colin Dow (St. Vincent Healthcare), Jeff Ewelt (ZooMontana), Nichole Mehling-Miles (Hilton Garden Inn) and Ciara Sian Hagadone (Wells Fargo).

Steering Committee members are Kris Eklund (Western Security Bank), Jason Harris (Radio Billings), Lee Humphrey (Edward Jones), Jonna Jones (Wendy’s of Montana), Cassie LaGreca (Better to Gather Events), Mariah Litton (American Auto Body), Kelly McCandless (Billings Chamber/Visit Billings), Sylvia Noble (Elation), Heather Ohs (Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch Foundation), Patrick Parker (Sanderson Stewart), Angie Stiller (Farmers Insurance), and Angela Wong (Billings Clinic).

NextGen will begin accepting general members on July 1. Membership will be $75 for Chamber members and $100 for nonmembers. Call 245-4111 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Last Updated on Thursday, 26 June 2014 21:52

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Golden ‘K’ Kiwanis awards scholarships

Billings Golden “K” Kiwanis

Because of the generosity of family and friends of Gary Reynolds, the Billings Golden “K” Kiwanis announced that it has been able to provide a total of $2,000 in scholarships to West High School students.

Bob Reynolds loaned his support for the project.

The Gary Reynolds’ Scholarships were awarded to Brennan Hawsey and Michael Wheeler.

Brennan Hawsey (son of Lyle and Vicki Hawsey) has been very involved in extracurricular activities and service projects, all the time maintaining a solid 4.0 GPA, while taking a rigorous advanced placement and honors core curriculum. His school activities include being involved with football, cross-country, student council and speech and debate. He plans to attend Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. He plans to major in economics and hopes to be a financial economist or an analyst for a major institution like the World Bank.

Michael Wheeler (son of Chadd and Paula Wheeler) wants to become a medical doctor specializing in anesthesiology or orthopedic sports medicine. He is a member of the National Honor Society, plays in the West High Symphonic band, swims competitively and is a member of the German Club. In addition to working part time, he volunteers at the Billings Clinic, Food Bank and with the summer reading program Reading Rocks. He plans to begin his pre-med program at the University of Montana.

Two West High Key Club Scholarships were awarded, one to Sarah Scheie and the other to Jessica Dutton.

Sarah (daughter of Holly Scheie) has balanced academics, athletics, community and family life. At school she is involved with Key Club, Speech and Debate, National Honor Society and cross-country. She has been active in her church and has also worked part time. She will attend Montana State University as an undecided major. She would like to explore her interests in both the medical and educational fields before making a final decision.

Jessica Dutton (daughter of Kurt and Karen Dutton) has maintained straight A’s in a challenging curriculum while being involved with both community and school activities. In the community she has worked with Special Olympics and Easter Seals-Goodwill Pediatric Therapy. She is a member of Honor Society, Creative Writing Club, Key Club, orchestra and has served as a West High Mentor. She plans to attend the University of Wyoming, majoring in architectural engineering.

The Golden “K” Kiwanis has awarded $33,000 worth of scholarships since 2008.

Last Updated on Thursday, 19 June 2014 10:46

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Character Counts winners named

The Big Sky State Games has selected Madison McLaughlin of Helena, Solenn Jacobsen of Baker, Michael Buster of Laurel and Wylie Leo of Ennis as the recipients of the 2014 Big Sky State Games Character Counts! Scholarship. The $500 scholarship winners will be recognized at the 29th Annual Big Sky State Games Opening Ceremonies event Friday, July 18.

The winners were chosen based on their character, community involvement, and participation in sports. Character Counts! promotes sportsmanship and fosters good character by teaching, enforcing, advocating, and modeling, the “Six Pillars of Character”: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship.

High school juniors during the 2013-2014 school year that have participated in the State Games were eligible to apply for the scholarship. Selecting students who are finishing their junior year in high school ensures that the winners may be observed as role models during their senior year.

Michael Buster brought his Track and Field skills to the Big Sky State Games field in 2010, 2011, and 2012. He also participated in Basketball in 2011. For the past three years he has received Academic All State recognition for football, track, and basketball. Michael is a member of the National Honor Society and a Member of the Society of Torch and Laurel. A very notable honor includes being a recipient of the National Academy of Future Physicians and Medical Sciences Award of Excellence in 2014. When it comes to sports, Michael won AMP Athlete of the Year in 2014, the Iron Man Award in the 2013 football season, and the All Conference Running Back and Outside Line Backer in the 2013 football season. Currently Michael volunteers at St. Vincent’s hospital in the Patient Services Department.

Last Updated on Thursday, 19 June 2014 10:32

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