AlumKnights Newsletter June 2022

DCTC campus community looking forward to fall semester

Interior Design Alumna Spotlight: Araya Jensen

Araya Jensen

2000 graduate works as senior digital art director at Target

Araya Jensen, 41, graduated from Dakota County Technical College in 2000 with her Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree in Interior Design/Sales + Marketing. Araya was active as a student member of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID). She also worked while going to college as a sales consultant and designer at Bellacor, a Minneapolis-based home furnishings and lighting retailer.

Araya has more than two decades of experience as an interior designer, artist, art director, project manager, photographer, sales professional, brand/product developer, and entrepreneur. After graduating from DCTC, she excelled as a senior designer for Home Valu Interiors.

In 2006, she began working as a senior designer and sales consultant at Crystal Kitchen + Bath, creating and presenting seminars to clients seeking high-end, whole-home remodeling projects. Her remodeling sales topped $750,000 in 2008.

Rebounding from the catastrophic housing-industry crash, Araya discovered her gift for entrepreneurship and founded Willful, a successful home-goods business centered on her own design line of handmade housewares. Willful included online sales and a retail store in Tangletown, a neighborhood in Minneapolis.

“I love the challenge of owning my own creative business,” Araya said.  “The ability to succeed and fail and reiterate a design on my own terms. It’s truly thrilling when someone buys something that you have created, which began as a part of you.”

Today, Araya works as a senior digital art director for Target, a general merchandise retailer with 400,000 employees and stores in all 50 U.S. states and Washington, D.C. Founded in 1962, Target is headquartered in Minneapolis. Araya’s duties in her role as art director are focused on developing original ideas for digital advertising campaigns for Target’s Home products. During her typical workday, she collaborates with associate creative directors, copywriters, experience designers, media experts, and developers.

“I love the ability to use all my career experience in this role,” Araya said. “I am able to use my interior design and remodeling experience when building and creating rooms/spaces for our product stories to live. I also get to use my marketing experience to deliver content that appeals to our guests and gives the inspiration and ideas to ideally purchase Target products. My entrepreneurial experience helps me think outside the box and create new solutions to marketing requests. My know-how allows me to get the job done no matter the roadblocks.”

During her career journey, Araya established Araya Jensen Creative, a business venture showcasing her expertise in art prints, still-life photography, product design, creative workshops, and installations. She also earned a B.S. in Marketing from Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota as well as a Business Accelerator certificate from Minnesota DEED Scale UP.


Brian Barnes Shines at BPA Nationals

Brian Barnes

Software Development major brings home one 1st place and two second place finishes in nationwide competitions

Brian Barnes, a Software Development major at Dakota County Technical College, competed against the very best college students in the country at the 56th Annual Business Professionals of America (BPA) National Leadership Conference in Dallas, Texas. The event was held at the Hilton Anatole May 4–8, 2022. BPA considers the national conference the pinnacle event of the organization’s membership year.

“The competition was very fun!” said Brian, who serves as Student Senate president and belongs to Phi Theta Kappa (PTK). “I had a great time meeting new people and participating in the fun activities BPA had to offer. One of my favorite memories from the event—besides winning 1st and 2nd in my events—was sitting on a real bull! They brought in a live bull for anyone to sit on and take photos.”

Brian also enjoyed visiting the Perot Museum of Nature and Science. “Some of the photos and exhibits blew me away!” he said. “I am so grateful for participating in the 2022 BPA National Leadership Conference. Next year, I am pursuing earning the Torch Award for community service and leadership.”

Brian qualified for the BPA Nationals by performing exceptionally well at the BPA Spring State Leadership Conference this past March, taking first place in C# Programming and Information Technology Concepts as well as second place in Computer Programming Concepts and Parliamentary Procedure Concepts.¹

Marie Saunders, DCTC accounting instructor, serves as a BPA Club faculty advisor at the college. Marie was impressed by Brian’s outstanding performance in his national competitions.

“This was the first time attending the BPA National Leadership Conference for Brian Barnes—and he did a fantastic job,” she said. “There is much more to do while at the conference than just compete. We attended two leadership workshops helping students with business-appropriate clothing as well as college admissions. We attended the Texas Hoedown on Friday evening and watched armadillo races, sat on a real bull, and watched students getting thrown from the mechanical bulls.”

Marie added that the highlight of course was the Saturday evening Awards where Brian placed in the top 10 in three out of his competitions.

“On the way home the next day, Brian looked up on the BPA site for some additional awards he could earn for next year,” Marie said. “The reason I am a club advisor is to see the students enjoy their accomplishments.”


Brian served as the student keynote speaker at the DCTC 2022 Commencement Ceremony

2022 Celebrating Success Gala Raises $80,000 for Students

Event brings together students, staff, faculty, and sponsors from two campus communities

On April 28, 2022, the Dakota County Technical College and Inver Hills Community College foundations were delighted to host an in-person gala at Brackett’s Crossing in Lakeville, Minnesota, after being limited to two years of virtual events.

This year’s gala theme was Celebrating Success. The event spotlighted two excellent student speakers: Giselle Pliego, DCTC Dental Assistant major, and Kingsly Nge, Inver Hills Nursing major. Giselle and Kingsly spoke about the personal and financial hurdles they have faced and overcome. Both students encouraged gala guests to generously donate and invest in students’ educations.

Giselle Pliego

Kingsly Nge

Five award winners were recognized during the program:

DCTC Alumna of the Year: Kimberly Scanlon: Owns her own design firm, Vela Creative

Kimberly Scanlon with President Berndt

Inver Hills Alumna of the Year: Kathy Bachman: MDVA Higher Education Regional Coordinator

Kathy Bachman

DCTC Employee of the Year: Susan Farmer: Long-time faculty member

Randy Farmer and Sarah Farmer accepting award for Susan

Susan Farmer

Inver Hills Employee of the Year: Shannon Williams: Community-Based Learning Coordinator

Shannon Williams with President Berndt

Community Partner of the Year: Allina Health

Susan Long and Anne Byre accepting award for Allina Health

The Gala was very successful raising $80,000 for scholarship and emergency grant resources for students attending both institutions. Thanks to each and every sponsor, donor, and guest for your overwhelming support, enthusiasm, and participation.  The event was successful because of you!

“We were thrilled with the outpouring of support from our sponsors as well as the generosity of our guests,” said Kim Shaff, executive director of the foundation and community relations. “It was a great night of celebration, recognition, and support for our students. DCTC and Inver Hills have a great community of dedicated supporters—and we value each one. Thank you to all who participated in the Gala. By supporting this event and/or providing future donations, you become a part of a student’s success story.”

If you missed the gala and would like to make a donation, click the link below to provide a gift:


2022 Celebrating Success Gala gallery

View more event photos by visiting the DCTC Flickr album:

DCTC and Inver Hills 2022 Gala: Celebrating Success

DCTC Basketball Completes Stellar Season

NJCAA DII Men’s Basketball North District Playoff champions

Blue Knights placed 8th out of 16 teams at NJCAA DII Men’s Basketball Championship

The Blue Knights basketball team at Dakota County Technical College completed the 2021–2022 season with a 20–10 record and an 8th place finish at the NJCAA Division II Men’s Basketball Championship in March 2022 at the Mary Miller Center in Danville, Illinois.

The #14 seed Blue Knights lost to the #3 seed SUNY Sullivan Generals 71–75 in game #2, but went on to defeat the #11 seed Southern Arkansas University Tech Rockets 74–71 in a consolation game and the #10 seed Niagara County Community College Thunder Wolves 82–73 in the 7th place semifinal before losing to the #13 seed Parkland College Cobras 67–85 in the 7th place final.

“I am extremely proud of what the guys were able to accomplish in Danville,” Head Coach Peter Olafeso said. “It was the first time in our program’s history that we won two games at the National Tournament. We had a couple of players who took advantage of the opportunity and will be moving on to play at the next level.”

DCTC advanced to the nationals by beating the Central Community College Columbus Raiders 71–67 at home March 5, 2022, to win the NJCAA DII Men’s Basketball North District Playoff. The team defeated the United Tribes Technical College Thunderbirds 94–93 in an away game February 27 to win the NJCAA Region XIII Championship. The Blue Knights rolled past the Dakota College at Bottineau Lumberjacks 101–64 the day before and also away to win their Region XIII semi-final game.

Head Coach Peter Olafeso guided the team to a 21–10 record, Region XIII Championship, North District Playoff victory, and an appearance in the NJCAA National Championship Tournament in the 2019–2020 season—his first as the team’s head coach. The tournament was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I am looking forward to the 2022–2023 season with a strong core of returners along with a good recruiting class coming in,” Coach Olafeso said. “We should be in a position to compete for a Region XIII title.”


Brandon Folson Serves as 2022 Commencement Keynote

Brandon Folson

Brandon Folson, a 2020 DCTC graduate, served as the keynote speaker at the DCTC 2022 Commencement Ceremony. Brandon also serves as the president of the DCTC Alumni Advisory Board. He was a highly motivated student at DCTC and Inver Hills Community College. He earned an Automotive Technician diploma and studied business management at DCTC and liberal arts at Inver Hills.

Brandon was an exceptionally engaged student at both schools, serving on the DCTC and Inver Hills American Indian Advisory Committees. He served as Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) president at DCTC and was a PTK member at Inver Hills. He also served on the Inver Hills Diversity Council. He completed Heart of a Leader training at DCTC.

After graduating from DCTC, Brandon transferred to Loyola University Chicago. He’s attending Loyola full-time, majoring in Economics and Pre-Law. He is continuing his passion for student engagement at Loyola. He is an Achieving College Excellence (ACE) Scholar and serves as a Cura Scholar research fellow on tribal economies.

Graduation 2022 fast facts

  • 250 graduates walked
  • 2,500 guests in attendance
  • Three programs with most 2022 graduates: Welding, Electrical Construction & Maintenance Technology, Practical Nursing

Brandon’s keynote address on YouTube

[Note: Brandon is introduced at the 32:12 mark in the video.]


View more photos of the event by visiting the DCTC Flickr album:

DCTC Commencement 2022

DCTC Receives $100,000 Grant from Johnson Controls

Partnership program invests in local technical college programs to support thriving career paths, spur local economic development, narrow the global skilled labor gap, and train next generation of trade workforce

Dakota County Technical College (DCTC) will invest in the career pathway for the next generation of building technology innovators. Through a $100,000 grant from the Johnson Controls Community College Partnership Program, DCTC will expand its associate degree and diploma programs in the HVAC & Refrigeration Technology program. In addition to the initial investment, DCTC is eligible for up to three years of renewed funding, allowing the program to expand and serve future students.

“The ultimate goal for DCTC is to expand our current HVAC & Refrigeration program space to accommodate the demand for our program, enhance our current efforts to increase diversity in the program, and incorporate additional academic and professional supports for underrepresented students to foster success,” said Kim Shaff, executive director of the DCTC Foundation.

Introduced in 2021, the Johnson Controls Community College Partnership Program funds $15 million over the span of five years to nonprofit community colleges throughout North America in support of their HVAC, fire, security, and digital academic programs. Funding for each community college differs based on its needs; in general, colleges will use the funding to recruit, support, retain, and graduate underserved students who otherwise may not have had the opportunity to pursue higher education.

Local Johnson Controls employees in each market serve as volunteer educators and mentors, providing students with counseling and real-world experiences. The mentoring is directly incorporated into various college programs and provides a pathway for student internships and entry-level opportunities at Johnson Controls.


Learn more about the the Alumni Advisory Board and Alumni Association by contacting:

Amy Eppen
DCTC Foundation Development Director
DCTC Alumni Association on Facebook
DCTC Alumni on LinkedIn