Accompanied by two brothers and three sisters, Ivan Piskun migrates to Minnesota and clicks with Photography and Photographic Imaging Technology programs.
Ivan Piskun, 25, didn’t speak a word of English when his family moved to the United States from the Kyrgyz city of Novoye Pokrovskoe in November of 2001. He spoke only Russian, but offset that would-be obstacle with a strong drive to succeed in a new land.
Today, roughly 6,300 miles away from his birthplace, Piskun is making his mark at Dakota County Technical College. After discovering an affinity for cameras, shutter speeds, lenses and darkrooms, he maximized his education through the college’sPhotography and Photographic Imaging Technology programs.
This spring Piskun will graduate from DCTC with an A.S. degree in photography, an A.A.S. degree in photographic imaging technology as well as digital imaging technician, photographer assistant and business entrepreneurship certificates.
Piskun’s family—which includes his father, Petr, his mother, Irina, plus two brothers and three sisters—is native to Kyrgyzstan, a landlocked country in Central Asia that is known officially as the Kyrgyz Republic.
Once part of the Tsarist Empire, Kyrgyzstan became a Soviet republic in 1936, gaining independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991. Dominated by the Tien Shan, or “Celestial Mountains,” Kyrgyzstan is breathtakingly beautiful, earning the nickname “Switzerland of Central Asia.”
Searching for a new life, the family of eight turned to the United States as a place of promise and opportunity. Understandably, the move presented formidable logistical challenges.
“When I first met Ivan, I saw a clean-cut, chiseled young Russian American with a direct approach and intensity in his eyes. He stood at attention and put out his hand as if greeting his superior officer.”
“My uncle was already living in Spokane, Wash., and he helped us get settled in the U.S.,” Piskun said. “Because my father is a Baptist pastor, we were sponsored by a church in Salt Lake City and were able to move to Utah. I knew from the start that I wanted to get a college degree.”
Realizing he needed to become bilingual in a hurry, Piskun enrolled in a school with an English as a Second Language program. A quick study, he went on to earn his high school diploma and was soon attending a nearby community college.
“I took classes in computer programming,” he said. “I was introduced to photography as a required course in my general education curriculum. I didn’t know it then, but I was already on the road to becoming a professional photographer.”
Eventually, the family made their permanent home in Apple Valley, Minn. Piskun enrolled at Normandale Community College, where he briefly considered earning a degree in radiology.
“Luckily, that program had a year-long waiting list so I transferred to DCTC in the fall of 2004,” he said. “I enrolled in the Photography program and loved everything about it. The instructors really have their subject matter covered, teaching in equal, but different ways. Darrell Tangen is the expert in digital photography. Peter Latner is tops at film. And Bill Eilers is all about motivation.”
Eilers, a photo technology instructor who also chairs his department, praises Piskun as a truly positive force in the photography department.
“When I first met Ivan, I saw a clean-cut, chiseled young Russian American with a direct approach and intensity in his eyes,” Eilers related. “He stood at attention and put out his hand as if greeting his superior officer. In his charming accent he declared: ‘I vant you to know…I vill be the best!'”
Piskun marched away from that first meeting leaving a marvelous impression. Eilers remembered feeling as if he had just “formed an American-Russian alliance not seen since our countries partnered against fascism in World War II.”
“In subsequent months, Ivan proved his words, rising to the top in many categories,” Eilers said. “He produced A grades in nearly all his classes, served on many committees and took every freelance photography position possible. Perhaps most importantly, Ivan charmed, helped and befriended so many people in our department and all over campus.”
Formerly involved in the Student Senate and currently a work-study student in the Photography program, Piskun plans to leave a legacy for succeeding classes of photography students.
“I’m working on a competition project of student photos that will be displayed in public libraries or government centers,” he said. “Local officials will serve as judges. I hope that the competition continues long after I’ve graduated.”
As for his future plans, Piskun definitely wants to open his own studio in or near Apple Valley. Last February, he made strides in that direction by launching a new business called PIP Photography, Inc.
“I might have to work as a photographer’s apprentice for a year or so,” he said, “but at some point I’m going to run my own wedding and portrait photography studio.”
Perhaps setting some sort of unofficial record, all five of Piskun’s brothers and sisters attend DCTC.
- Marina, 23, graduated with a Dental Assistant diploma in the fall of 2007. This spring she will graduate with a diploma in Child Development.
- Andrey, 22, is enrolled in Architectural Technology program.
- Roman, 21, is enrolled in Graphic Design Technology program.
- Natalya, 20, will graduate this spring with an A.A.S. degree in Accounting and an A.S. degree in Business.
- Vera, 19, will graduate this spring with a diploma in Child Development.
Following in Marina’s footsteps, Natalya and Vera are employed at the DCTC Bookstore as work-study students. Andrey and Roman are work-study students in their respective programs. Also connected to DCTC, Petr Piskun works in the college’s Operations Department.
In some ways, Ivan Piskun remains attached to his homeland of Kyrgyzstan. When asked during an interview if he ever reverts to thinking in his native tongue, he smiled and nodded. “I do both,” he said. “I think in English when I’m answering questions in English. At other times, I still think in Russian.”
Equipped with a wide variety of traditional and digital technical skills, graduates of thePhotographic Imaging Technology program are fully prepared for employment in the industry. Versed in photography, film and paper processing, quality control, professional printing and computer and software operation, graduates have the skill set to make informed career decisions in a field undergoing continual development.
Backed by hands-on experience with traditional and digital photographic equipment, graduates of the Photography program are prepared for self-employment, transfer to a four-year college, or direct entry into the visual communications field. Immersed in courses and projects that reflect real-world assignments, students gain comprehensive knowledge of the business, art and science of photography.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, national employment for photographers is expected to grow 10 percent through 2016. Salaried photographers had median annual earnings of $26,170 as of May 2006, with top earners making nearly $57,000 a year.
Minnesota’s Internet System for Education and Employment Knowledge, or ISEEK, reports that the average hourly wage is $19.96 for photographers in Minnesota, or more than $41,000 a year. Photographers in the seven-county Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area make considerably more, with an average of $23.72 an hour, or $49,339 a year.