Going the Distance

Going the Distance

Software Development student Jeffrey Machacek programs a brilliant future

When Jeffrey Machacek was a ninth grader, he encountered an educational system that decided he had reached his academic ceiling. Jeffrey had been diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified, or PDD-NOS, which applies to children or adults who are on the autism spectrum, but do not meet the criteria for classic autism or Asperger syndrome. Jeffrey’s skills had progressed only as far as the third-grade level. Certain educators wrote him off, concluding that his career potential was limited to an entry-level job at a fast-food restaurant. That assessment did not find acceptance with Jeffrey or his parents.

Jeffrey Machacek and his mom, Dianne Machacek“My mom and dad told me to aim for the stars,” Jeffrey said. “They said I could do anything I wished if I put my mind to it and did my best.”

Today, Jeffrey Machacek, 22, is a 4.0 student in the Software Development program at Dakota County Technical College. He is an award-winning competitor in Business Professionals of America, a student club at the college, and has served as a guest speaker, volunteer and advocate for several organizations and events. He is a tutor in the college’s Information Systems department and a model train enthusiast who excels as a trainmaster for the Hennepin Overland Railway Historical Society.

Jeffrey’s train videos from Hennepin Overland

Dianne Machacek, Jeffrey’s mom, is delighted by Jeffrey’s success on a college campus. “Jeffrey’s father and I think Jeffrey’s accomplishments are beyond wonderful,” she said. “Faculty and staff at DCTC have encouraged and supported him from the start. We are very proud of everything Jeffrey does.”

Jeffrey has discovered that he is a natural programmer—his instructors tell him he’s got a knack for it. He has always been fascinated by computers and how they work, but his love for model trains is what placed him on his current track. “Model trains are all computer controlled,” he said. “I first learned about programming by working with my trains. I love the challenge of programming, but most of all I love programming because it’s so much fun.”

Jeffrey Machacek | TrainmasterBetty Krueger, one of Jeffrey’s instructors in the Information Systems department, admires Jeffrey’s mastery of his coursework. “Jeffrey has developed into such a strong programmer,” she said. “He is so good with the details and has the tenacity to work through the problems.”

Jeffrey’s talent as a programmer led him to join Business Professionals of America at DCTC. In March 2013, he competed at the BPA State Leadership Conference in Mankato, Minn., and took home three awards: First place in Java Programming, third place in Visual Basic Programming and first place in Web Design with team member, Clay Carlson, a student in the Multimedia and Web Design program.

“Jeffrey has been a great addition to our Business Professionals of America chapter,” said Lyle Stelter, an accounting instructor and BPA faculty advisor. “His success at the state level means he will be competing in three categories at the BPA National Leadership Conference in Orlando, Florida, this May.”

“We will be staying at the Dolphin Hotel at Disney World,” added Jeffrey, who is quite happy with the conference’s location, having been to the resort a number of times before on family vacations.

Jeffrey with fellow DCTC BPA membersJeffrey has also been active in the autism spectrum disorder community. In October 2012, he was a guest speaker at the Autism and Employment Forum, which was sponsored by the Autism Society of Minnesota and held at the 3M Center in Maplewood, Minn. Two months later, he spoke at an event hosted by DCTC on the college’s Rosemount campus, Advancing with Autism: A Blueprint to Success Beyond High School. Dr. Stephen Shore, a renowned ASD advocate, was the featured speaker at the event.

Jeffrey’s advocacy doesn’t stop there. He has lobbied at the state capitol for The Arc of Minnesota in support of people with disabilities. At ACT, or Advocating Change Together, he taught people with disabilities how to use a computer. At SAM, or Self-Advocates Minnesota, he taught people with disabilities about different ways they can find help. He earned a Partners in Policymaking certificate, an eight-month program from the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities. At PCs for People, he volunteered to refurbish old computers that are then sold at a discount to low-income people. He learned enough about computer hardware and software to build his own supercomputer.

Jeffrey speaking at the Autism and Employment Forum

One of Jeffrey’s favorite assignments at the college is working as a tutor for students in Information Systems programs. “I specialize in operating systems, but I’m happy to answer questions for just about any class in the IT field,” he said. “If I don’t know that answer, I will go and find out.”

Judy Suddendorf, another information systems instructor, supervises Jeffrey in his job as a tutor. “Jeffrey is amazing,” she said. “I have taught for thirty-plus years and Jeffrey is one of the best students I have had the pleasure to work with. He is an awesome problem solver and extremely generous with his time and talents. Many of my students have benefited from working with Jeffrey. You could fill my classroom with twenty-four Jeffreys and I would be happy.”

Jeffrey considers his younger brother, Matthew Machacek, 19, his best friend. Matthew is also on the autism spectrum, which gives the two brothers a special bond. They enjoy TV shows like Doctor Who and Naruto: Shippuden as well as video games like Assassin’s Creed III, the latter taking place in colonial America, which fits in well with Jeffrey’s love for American history. Jeffrey also identifies with the Disney character, Hercules, and the theme song, “Go the Distance,” from the 1997 animated feature film.

“That’s me,” Jeffrey said with a bright smile. “I just keep going the distance.”

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