Five Tips for Preparing for the School Year

I know you don’t want to start thinking about it, but the better prepared you are for the next school year, the better and more easily you’ll pass your classes, get your degree or certificate, and start your dream career. Pickens Technical College offers challenging courses designed to train you for the next step in your life and prepare you for a job you love. If you start preparing now, by the time school starts up again in the fall, you’ll be ahead of your classmates and ready to perform.

What can you do to prepare? Here are five tips to help you begin the process:

1. Go Over Last Year’s Material

None of these tips are going to be particularly fun right after the school year, but remember that you’re not in high school anymore, and all the training and learning you’re doing at PTC goes directly toward your position in the career of your choice. Probably the most tedious task over the summer, however, is going over the material you already learned.

It might be difficult to re-do the hands-on work your PTC instructor had you do during the year, but, even if you can’t access a place to practice, you can still go over your notes and readings. You don’t have to memorize the teachings from the previous year, but even a few quick glances at the material can help you remember those key points for next semester.

2. Peek at Next Year’s Material

Some professors will lay out a plan for their classes and the progression their students need to complete to move up and on. See if you can ‘peek’ at next semester’s syllabus or curriculum. Some professors are a bit more secretive, but if you can get ahold of them via email, they might be willing to at least give you a preview of the material coming in the next step.

3. Keep Your Brain Sharp

You probably know this from high school summers, but if you let your brain slip into a lazy routine, it will be in for a rude awakening in the fall. Read, try to apply the things you learned to your ‘real’ life, and impose some kind of discipline to these endless summer days to stay sharp and ready for the next semester.

4. Keep in Touch with Your Peers and Mentors

Some teachers go on vacation or do other things during the school year. Many PTC teachers have other jobs or responsibilities. Take advantage of any mentor or teacher who is still in touch with you during the summer. Pick their brain. Ask them questions about the next step.

It’s important to keep in touch with your classmates as much as possible, too. The people sitting next to you in class could be the foundation of a useful professional network in the future.

5. Start Looking for Internships or Jobs

You may not be qualified for jobs in your industry without your certificate or diploma, but the sooner you can start looking at the opportunities out there for people in your industry, the better prepared you’ll be when you need to use your credentials to land that first entry-level job.

Start Your 2018 Summer Reading Program

Remember grade school, when your teacher would hand you a list of books to read over the summer? No matter which books were on that list, whether you’ve heard of them or not, you rolled your eyes and groaned, if you’re anything like me. I’ve since come to love reading books, even when I wasn’t required to.

If you’re planning on returning to school in some form or another next fall, creating a summer reading list can be a big help. In addition to looking around for employment opportunities, updating your resume, and networking, spending some time reading books, articles, magazines, and other material is worth it. And beyond the help that a summer reading program can give your career, you can build your overall skillset and expand your imagination by reading the classics of literature and the new releases promising to change the literature scene.

Starting a summer reading list is as simple as jotting down several books you want to read. Be sure to give yourself enough time to read all (or most of) the books on your list, and don’t feel ashamed if you don’t quite get to everything. It’s summer, after all.

Here are a few suggestions, from new releases to great works of the past, to books to boost your career, to get your summer reading list going:

  1. All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin. Giffin is the author of the bestselling book Something Borrowed. She’s back at it again this summer with her latest release, about a photograph that intertwines several influential families in Nashville’s upper crust.
  2. Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage. The debut novel by Stage is a domestic horror story that takes the anxiety inherent in raising children to a twisted new level. Hanna, seven-year-old, has increasingly violent tantrums, speaks in the voice of a 17 th century girl who was burned at the stake, and plots evermore demented ways to “step up her game against Mommy.”
  3. The Girls by Emma Cline. The novel about a young woman swept up in Manson Family-esque madness took the literature world by storm back in the summer of 2016. Cline’s debut novel is shocking and astonishing, and you won’t be able to put it down.
  4. Industry help or instructional book of your choice. I wanted to save a place on this list for the books that will help you directly when you return to class in the fall. As painful as it is to think about reading textbooks during the summer, getting supplemental information about your studies and keeping yourself in that frame of mind will keep you sharp over the summer when everyone else is losing their skills for lack of practice.
  5. Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life… and Maybe the World by William H. McRaven. In the world of cheesy self-help books, this light, fairly easy, brisk, 144-page book will tip you off to small habits that can make a big impact. Try it!
  6. On the Road by Jack Kerouac. Now, I know that not everyone will love this book as much as I did—it’s certainly not everyone’s cup of tea. But, as residents of Colorado, where Kerouac famously wrote and stayed during his many restless travels, we should all at least give it a try. If you can find your way in Kerouac’s breathless pace, you might find a rebellious streak you never thought you had, and a will to be yourself above all else.

Nourish your brain by reading while you sunbathe this summer, and get started with these six great books.

Stay Sharp: Why Practicing Your Skills Over the Summer Makes Sense

Summer is right around the corner, and if you’re anything like me when I was in school,
thinking about lounging in the sun for three months is one of the most prominent things in your
mind right now. It’s important to let your mind and body relax after completing a school year of
hands-on, rigorous training and learning at Pickens Technical College, but you also have to think
about your skills and your career after graduation.
PTC makes it easy to transfer knowledge from the classroom to the job, but it’s up to you
to learn and maintain the skills that will make your career. Summer vacation is the perfect time
to identify areas that you might not be as strong in within your field and focus on those weak
points to round out your abilities.
This is especially helpful and important if you’re in the middle of a two-year program or
if you plan on getting more education in your area later on. Maintaining your skills also helps
you stay sharp for the fall, when Human Resources folks, hiring managers, and other company
officials come back from their vacations ready to hire new blood.
Remember elementary school, when the teachers or librarians would challenge you with
a summer reading list? As much as I love reading, I didn’t particularly care for the idea of
homework over the summer. But there was a reason why teachers did this. They didn’t want to
have to essentially start all over again with their students when they returned to school in the fall.
The more reading their students did over their three-month vacation, the better prepared to learn
they were in the fall.
In a specialized field like the one you’re likely training for at PTC, staying sharp is even
more important. Even with all the advantages you get from earning a certification at PTC or
completing a program there, you’ll still be competing with who-knows-how-many other job-
seekers when it comes time to use your skills to start a career. So the sharper you are when it
comes time to hire people, the better chance you’ll have of getting that job.

If you’re returning to school, either at PTC or another college, you’ll be ready to learn
and pick up where you left off if you spent time working on the weaker areas of your skills. Just
like the NBA players who shoot hundreds of shots by themselves in the gym, developing muscle
memory is highly important for many of the skills PTC teaches.
There are many ways to approach this. Check in with your instructor to see if they have
any kind of summer availability in PTC shops or other hands-on learning environments. If you’re
in the Automotive Technology Program, for example, see if you can get in for a few hours to
work in the auto shop on campus. Another option is to look for internships or volunteer
opportunities at organizations outside of PTC. Seek out a few of the companies you’re likely to
apply to and try to get a foot in the door, even if it’s just meeting someone for coffee, that’s a
valuable connection.
Don’t work yourself too hard this summer, but remember that your skills could always
use improvement, and everyone’s competency needs to be maintained with practice. Summer
vacation is the perfect opportunity for this.

The Importance of Rest

If you’re attending Pickens Technical College and you wrapped up your semester of intense, hands-on training, congratulations. You’ve earned some rest. The classes and programs at PTC are not easy. They’re not supposed to be. Learning a new skill is difficult, whether it’s how to weld or how to time the hit-stick just right in Madden.

Since you’ve worked so hard to develop this new skill, you deserve to rest, as well. Playing hard—getting out and having fun—is important, too, emotionally, psychologically, and physically, but so is rest. Why? Because rest helps your body and mind recover so you can come back stronger.

Physical Benefits of Rest

I don’t need to cite scientific research showing how beneficial rest is on your body. You know it instinctually. Not only is rest crucial for not working yourself to death physically, it helps you become more coordinated and strong, especially if what you’re learning and working on at PTC is physical in nature.

It’s a pretty simple concept. When you work out at the gym, you don’t always see dramatic improvements in your strength or muscle mass. It’s only the next day that you feel sore and yet see a difference in your body. Rest helps your body rebuild the lost and spent cells from your physical workout and lets these new cells become even stronger than the ones they replace.


You’ve probably heard before that your brain is a muscle and needs to be exercised to work at its best. Just like a muscle, the brain needs a rest period to regrow stronger and better than before. But more than that, your mind needs rest to be fully functional and ready to learn. Even if you’re doing the smart thing and continuing your reading and training over the summer, your brain needs rest because your mind needs rest.

When I say your mind needs rest, I mean more than sleep. Even when you’re focused on some task you learned only weeks before, your mind is pestering you with questions and random thoughts while your brain is attempting to sort through all the sensory input that makes up its overall perception of the world. And just getting your mind to focus on one task or thought at a time takes concentration and effort. You need rest to enable your mind to focus on the task at hand when you need it to.


When people use the term ‘burn-out’ you might think of it as a physical or mental problem. A person is so tired that they physically can’t drag themselves back to work for another 14-hour day, or their brain is so fried from being burnt out that they can’t perform their job. I see burn-out as an emotional problem. When I feel burnt-out, I either feel emotionally empty, or that I can’t control my emotions. It’s not that I physically can’t do my work, or that my mind has been turned off, it’s that I just don’t feel like doing the work. Motivation is a struggle we all go through. When you’re tired, you’re less motivated. Your brain is trying to tell you something: that it’s time for a rest. Don’t ignore it.

Five Outdoor Colorado Activities for Summer on a Budget

The weather is turning and summer is finally here! In addition to staying up-to-date with new information developing in your industry of choice, you can help yourself by taking some time off and exploring all the outdoor activities Colorado has to offer.

There are two main problems to enjoying yourself to the max at most outdoor Colorado activities, especially in the Denver Metro Area: cost and crowds. While I can’t predict where the crowds will surge next along the Front Range looking for fun ways to enjoy this Colorado sunshine, I can identify a few places to enjoy for free or for very little money.

Here are five great outdoor activities to keep you sun-tanned and smiling all summer:

City Park (Denver)

City Park is the largest park in Denver, and while it might be a little out of the way if you live in Aurora or Centennial, it’s open from dawn until dusk every day, and its sunshine, lakes (I wouldn’t swim in them because of the geese), and wide open green fields are free for anyone to enjoy. City Park is so large that it hosts a number of events throughout the summer, many of which are free to attend. One example of a splendid City Park event is Jazz in the Park, a weekly outdoor concert featuring top-notch jazz bands and orchestras every Sunday evening from Memorial Day until Labor Day.

Confluence Park (Denver)

In the heart of downtown Denver is where the city began: the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek. It’s the best place to get in the water anywhere in the city, in my opinion. Even with the crowds that tend to fill up the sunny sitting areas on the riverbanks, it’s a relaxing scene. The water moves fast, yet makes for a great place to take a quick dip. Look out for periodic events taking place at the park as well.

Boulder Creek (Boulder)

Every summer, the residents of Boulder and the surrounding area congregate on the banks of Boulder Creek. This 32-mile river provides opportunities for wading, swimming, inner tubing, sunbathing, and even fly fishing. Crowds will be present, but on a sunny day, all you need is a towel and a generally positive attitude to fit right in.

Aurora Reservoir (Aurora)

A little more close to home for Pickens Technical College is the 800-acre Aurora Reservoir. You’ll find a bit more space here to spread out and relax under the sun while going for a swim in the reservoir. Non-motorized boats are allowed, as is fishing. There is a $10 entry fee per vehicle, but if you buddy or squad up, this fee can be very affordable.

Mount Falcon (Morrison)

In the foothills behind Morrison is Mount Falcon Park, which features a 1.7-mile hikers-only trail, and another 11 miles of multi-use trails that run up and down the mountain and lead to historic ruins such as the John Brisben Walker castle, the would-be site of a summer White House that was never completed. A hike up the mountain offers spectacular views of the area. For a fee, you can even set up camp here.

Of course, there are plenty of other outdoor activities for free or on the cheap in the great state of Colorado, especially if you make it out of the Denver Metro Area. Get out and explore this summer.

Set These Summer Goals for Success

If you want to use your summer vacation to your advantage, it’s time to start setting goals now. Many people, especially students, get carried away with summer relaxation and end up wasting valuable time. It’s important to relax during the summer, of course. Your brain needs the fresh air, sunshine, and rest that summertime in Colorado can bring. But, with that in mind, it’s not a bad idea to set a few goals for yourself to accomplish in the next three months.

Everyone’s goals and strategies for reaching them are different, and they should be. Your goals will change as you accomplish them. Once you graduate from Pickens Technical College, your goals will likely be very different from someone who will return to PTC in the fall for more classes.

Since everyone’s priorities are different, instead of supplying your goals for you, (which I can’t do) I’ll organize them in three broad categories you should pay attention to when you’re planning out your summer:

Career Goals

Planning for your future career, whether it’s starting right now or further in the future, should always be a point of interest at PTC. Your instructors give you the hands-on skills to learn the trade, and the opportunities to ask questions and learn from real professionals. Over the summer, though, while many offer opportunities to train and get more experience in one way or another, the instructors aren’t there anymore to demand your homework. You have to take it upon yourself to supplement your instruction with solo training. Assess your weaknesses and find ways to strengthen them over the summer with your own lesson plan.

Next Year Goals

For students planning on continuing their education at one of PTC’s excellent programs, these goals should be called ‘next school year goals’. Those moving on should start planning their next move right away.

For the returning students, look ahead at which classes you’ll be taking with which instructors and introduce yourself as best you can both to the class material and to the person responsible for supplying it to you. Connecting with teachers early is a good way to get help later in the year when you run into problems.

For the graduates and those moving on, you have more uncertainty. The first objective should be considering your options carefully and deciding on what you want to do next. Pursue a higher degree? Get more training? Get a job or an internship in the industry? Find what works for you and start to lay out a plan that will get you there. Meet people working in the industry, draw up your resume, etc.

Personal Goals

I made this a separate section because, even though graduating and getting a job in a good field can of course be personal goals, but you should also focus on your personal development, beyond the professional realm. You’ve learned the skills and gained the experience that will make you a star in whatever industry you’ve chosen, but in order to move ahead and lead a fulfilled life, you have to work on yourself, too.

What’s a personal weakness you have? Try to identify weak points and discomfort zones and challenge them. Focus on doing a little more each day—cleaning the house, communicating more with loved ones, reading—to improve yourself and your personal relationships. It’s time well-spent.

The Serious Business of Summer Fun and Relaxation

It’s easy to fall into the trap, especially if you’ve already started your career or you’re working hard to kick it off, of overwork. In the United States, work is sacrosanct, and in many fields, overwork is simply part of the experience. If you’re motivated to get ahead and find success, it takes putting in the time and building your skills while preparing yourself for your next opportunity. However, taking time off, especially in the summer, is also important for your career.

At Pickens Technical College, everyone from the administrators to the teachers to the counselors and staffers works together to give students opportunities. But they value their summer vacation times, too. Use their example and give yourself time to rest and reset your batteries when the sun comes out, and you’ll find yourself motivated to take that next step when school and/or work starts up again.

Vacation time has been studied by researchers to try and find a link between regular rest and productivity, job satisfaction, and other indicators of success. Time and time again, vacation has been found to boost productivity. Don’t worry, you aren’t going soft or getting lazy if you decide to take a week or two off every summer.

Let’s look at a few specific ways vacation time can help you be your best and advance your career:

Boost Your Creativity

Do you ever find yourself staring at a problem or task so arduous you simply can’t even start it, let alone perform your best work on it? It’s a symptom of burnout. In this context, I mean burnout not as a function of working 80 hours a week, but because your brain is fatigued. It could be because of lack of sleep, too much stress, too much repetitive work, or a number of other reasons. Spending time away from your desk, especially in nature (even if you’re only sunbathing), lets your brain rest. If you can manage to stay away from work for a week or more, your brain will be clear of its fatigue and you’ll find yourself completing arduous tasks more quickly and easily when you return.

Relieve Stress

I wanted to make stress relief its own section because it’s so important to realize what stress does to your body. When you’re stressed, your body releases hormones that constrict blood vessels, increasing risks and complications from hypertension and other circulation problems. And that’s just the beginning of harmful reactions prolonged stress causes in your body. Stress leads to cardiac arrest and other problems, and it can build up in your system and affect your health and productivity. Release stress by taking a vacation and spending time outside.

Create Habits and Examples of Self-Care

Perhaps the most important reason to give yourself a vacation is the habit that it instills in you and the example you’ll be setting for others. When you make time off not just a fun treat every once in a while, but a necessary part of keeping yourself in peak condition to perform your job functions, you’ll create a habit that will benefit you for your entire career. Think of taking a vacation as akin to working out, minus the sweat and physical pain. When you reach that point in your career where you’re leading others, taking a vacation will send them a message and provide them with an example of why vacationing is necessary and important, encouraging them to do the same. Pretty soon you’ll find yourself managing a team of happy, energetic workers.

Everyone is different. Some people manage stress and burnout better than others. Know yourself, know your body, and allow yourself the time to restore your powers and abilities with time off this summer.

The Basics of Dental Assistance

The Dental Assisting program at Pickens Technical College is a popular one that teaches students to be contributing members of the dental profession. Dental assistants work with the dentist at the chair side in the dental office, providing support to dentists and patients. Experienced dental assistants perform direct patient care functions such as taking x-rays and tooth impressions, and providing preventative education and nutritional counseling as needed. They also handle clerical and reception work at many offices as well. Dentists are relying increasingly more on their assistants to keep customers relaxed and happy when they visit the dentist—no easy task.

But it’s that difficult task that the dental assistant’s profession is given more and more often. Working with diverse populations is a skill that is increasing demand in the dental world as well, especially in large metro areas like Denver.

Aside from learning the basic tasks that a dental assistant has to undertake on a day-to-day basis, PTC’s program also focuses on critical thinking, effective communication, information and technology literacy, quantitative reasoning, and professionalism. These skills are particularly important in today’s changing dental profession, where making patients comfortable, no matter who they are or where they come from, is paramount.

Students who complete the Dental Assisting course at PTC will earn a Dental Assisting certificate and will be qualified to enroll in the Expanded Duty Dental Assisting (EDDA) Program, also offered at PTC.

Meet the Instructors

With the addition of newcomers Cathy Mauricio and Heidi Heath last year, the PTC Dental Assisting program now has three experienced, engaging instructors to help students enter the dental assisting profession. Mauricio teaches both EDDA and Dental Assisting at PTC. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Biology at the University of Colorado and attended dental school at San Martin University in Lima, Peru.

Heidi Heath is a PTC graduate who cut her teeth, so to speak, in the dental industry by completing a 300-hour internship at a particularly busy dental practice before returning to PTC to teach up-and-coming dental assistants this year.

Heath continues to work as a temp EDDA to help her stay connected with the rapidly changing field and help her students even more. She is on the Advisory Board Committee at Pickens and believes in PTC’s mission to provide students with hands-on learning in environments as close to the real thing as possible.

The veteran of the Dental Assisting instructors is Chuck Lee, a licensed dentist in the state of Colorado and a PTC instructor for the past six years. Lee spent 25 years in the dental industry after earning his dental degree from the University of Colorado. He founded his own private practice in 1989. Lee has seen it all as a dentist and knows what students need to know to be successful.

The dental profession is changing because its patients are constantly changing. PTC’s Dental Assisting program ensures that its students are prepared to meet these changes and challenges head-on with experiential learning and an emphasis on making patients of all kinds feel welcome.

How to Turn Nervous Energy into an Asset in Job Interviews

I’ll be honest. I don’t take advantage of the well-documented mental help that meditation and other thinking exercises offers. It’s not because I look down on Eastern Medicine, or that I think I’m better than everyone who does yoga, breathing exercises, and meditation; it’s because I often feel I don’t have time.

That’s not an uncommon sentiment, I realize, but in certain situations, trying to focus my mind and relieve unnecessary stress has helped me.

Pickens Technical College is of course here to help you find jobs using the skills you’ve acquired. Its Career Services office is there to help students both before and after graduation get introduced to the opportunities they went to school for in the first place. Part of that getting-a-job process is the interview. The Career Services office can help you practice for interviews and prepare.

But what about those pesky butterflies in your stomach? The trick isn’t to try to destroy those feelings and that energy (by the laws of physics, you can’t destroy energy), but to transform it into something useful.

I’ve been there. Before meeting with a client for the first time, the butterflies swirl and crowd my stomach. It’s a natural reaction, but by doing a few simple cognitive exercises, you can relieve your nerves and infuse yourself with the focus you’ll need to wow employers at the interview. As a skeptic, I was surprised by the effectiveness of doing these exercises, and you might be, too.

The key to eliminating your nervous energy is to get to the root of your anxiety. Believe it or not, this doesn’t necessarily mean you have to pay for a month of therapy. It’s actually pretty easy to arrive at the root causes of your anxiety when you think about it. Before you start this deep dive, however, remind yourself that your feelings aren’t unnecessary. People punish themselves for being nervous or anxious when then can’t figure out why. All of your feelings are legitimate if you’re feeling them, even if you can’t immediately identify their cause.

Take a few moments to yourself and ask why you’re feeling nervous. In the case of job interviews, the root cause is usually pretty simple and self-explanatory: you’re nervous you’ll do or say something terrible in the interview that not only keeps you from getting this job, but keeps you out of your dream career altogether. Remember that the worst thing that could happen is that you don’t get the job. Unless you do something truly outrageous (chances are you won’t if you’re nervous about the job interview), you’ll get another chance at a good job even if you fail horribly in your next interview.

For me, at this stage, it helps to write it down. Listing my anxieties helps me get it out of my body, in a strangely satisfying way. You might get the anxieties out into the world by saying them out loud or telling someone else about them. The simple act of identifying your anxieties and examining them is crucial for turning anxious energy into useful energy.

The next step sounds much simpler but is actually much more difficult. Once you have the roots of your anxiety exposed, stop gripping at the fear these things cause and understand that no matter what happens, you’ll be okay. This thought process can take some time and work, but if you try, you’ll arrive at the simple knowledge that everything will work out. Once you’ve arrived at this conclusion, you’ll be relaxed and focused on your interview.

Plant and Horticulture Sale at Pickens Tech

It’s almost time for the annual plant sale, sponsored by the Pickens Technical College Horticulture program. Every year, Urban Horticulture and Landscaping students cultivate and nurture all the plants you’ll need to build the ultimate garden each spring and summer. This year, the three-day event will be held May 10 th through the 12 th , open from 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. each day at the PTC campus in Aurora. The great spring plant sale has everything you need for your garden and planters, including friendly advice from both Horticulture teachers and students.

The Urban Horticulture and Landscape Program prepares students for entry-level employment in four specialties within the field: interior and nursery plantscaping, greenhouse operations and design, and landscaping. Students learn about the materials they’ll be using on the job, the operations of professionals in this field, and successful business practices. Their instructors are experienced both in teaching and in the horticulture and landscaping field. As with all PTC instructors, their primary goal is to prepare students for work in the industry and future success.

Urban Horticulture students from PTC have gone on to do great things and have successful careers. One example is Veronika Tucker, who, after receiving her Landscape Management certificate from PTC, went on to work for a Denver-area landscaping firm. “This program offers so much hands-on training which helps the transition from school to the workplace”, said Tucker, as a part of an interview with the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado .

The Horticulture program at Pickens has produced many successful landscapers in the Denver area over the years, and they’re excited to share their knowledge and plants with you. Proceeds go back to the school and the Horticulture program to support hands-on training in the community and the connections that students can use to find employment when they graduate from the program. Not only will you get the finest plants and gardening supplies from the Horticulture Plant Sale, along with the knowledge you’ll need to plant and care for them properly if you need it, you’ll be supporting a program that puts aspiring landscaping professionals in great jobs throughout the community. Pickens fosters relationships with local employers to send them highly-trained and well-educated employees looking to start or shift their careers.

Be sure to get to the plant sale early if you can; these beautiful, elegant, and hardy plants go quickly every year as amateur and professional gardeners flock to this event to see what the Horticulture students at PTC have to offer them. Get them at affordable prices in time to build your own garden and landscaping space at your home this spring and summer.