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CLC: Hard work for honors student

One of the most ambitious students in the Honors Program at Central Lakes College certainly took a roundabout way to get there. Paul Warmuth, 29, is currently enrolled in Honors Calculus and Honors Engineering and is working toward his associate ...

Submitted photo Central Lakes College student Paul Warmuth works on some homework on campus recently.
Submitted photo Central Lakes College student Paul Warmuth works on some homework on campus recently.

One of the most ambitious students in the Honors Program at Central Lakes College certainly took a roundabout way to get there.

Paul Warmuth, 29, is currently enrolled in Honors Calculus and Honors Engineering and is working toward his associate degree in engineering. This is his fourth attempt at college after finishing high school as a C student, he said. He had no interest in math, but his father and a stint in the Army National Guard helped turn him around.

After high school, Warmuth was taking college courses and living with his father. Despite his comfort level, he was feeling restless.

"I had everything that I needed, but I just wasn't happy," Warmuth said. "I wanted to get out, I needed a change."

His options were to stay in school, join the military or perform menial jobs he didn't enjoy, he said. School wasn't going well, so the sensible option was to join the military, which in turn provided him with discipline and helped him develop as a person.

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"You're under a lot of pressure and it taught me that I respond well to pressure," Warmuth said.

Military experience

Warmuth was a satellite communications technician and while the rest of his unit was deployed to Iraq, he was sent to run a satellite communications operation in Kuwait. His job was to maintain the communications systems and troubleshoot any problems that arose. He is currently learning about some of the cultural differences he saw in Kuwait and Afghanistan in his Honors Sociology course.

Warmuth enjoyed the challenges that came with his job in the National Guard, he said. When he was stumped by a problem and it would finally click for him, he realized he loved the "a-ha" feeling.

"That 'a-ha' you get when you accomplish something and you can go back and work it out and get it right," Warmuth said. "That's a real motivator."

After leaving the Army National Guard, Warmuth returned to the Middle East and worked for four years in Afghanistan as a civilian contractor. He did the same job he had when he was in the National Guard, but had more downtime and freedom on his hands. He used that time to teach himself algebra, calculus and physics.

What spurred Warmuth's self-study was his father, who believes Warmuth needs to be challenged, he said.

"He's had that mindset for years and I never really listened to him," Warmuth said.

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The military taught Warmuth to learn how to put blinders on and focus at the task at hand, he said, which has given him a single-minded focus when it comes to his studies.

As a satellite communications contractor, Warmuth made good money and got to travel the country and the world. But, after doing it for a decade, the glamour wore off and the job started getting old, he said. He was ready to settle down and bring more stability to his personal relationships, two things that are hard to do when traveling the world.

"My thought was that if I were to come back, go for an engineering degree," Warmuth said.

Back to class

Warmuth decided to go to community college and not a four-year school because of his low GPA combined with the lack of SAT and ACT scores. He didn't think the U of M would accept him, so his hard work at CLC is his ticket in the door, he said.

"This is how I redeem myself," Warmuth said.

The lower cost of attending community college and living in the Brainerd area sold Warmuth on CLC as well.

Warmuth grew up on the Iron Range and was looking at the Brainerd area to be closer to his girlfriend, who lives in Crosby. The college features a good engineering program, which sealed the deal for him, he said. It's rare for a community college to have instructors who hold doctorate degrees in their fields, he said, and he's currently taking classes from Yoshinao Hirai, who holds a doctorate in physics and Karen Pikula, who holds a doctorate in psychology.

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Warmuth is planning to graduate from CLC in the spring of 2018 and hopefully enroll in the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in the fall of 2018 to earn an electrical engineering degree. It'll be tough to get into the U of M, he said, but the hard work he's doing at CLC will help.

With his degree and experience, Warmuth would be able to get a job designing the systems he's used to maintaining. An avid skier, Warmuth hopes to eventually settle in Colorado, where he'd be able to design satellite communications systems.

Why engineering?

One day, Warmuth and his father had a discussion, which led to an argument and finally a bet, Warmuth said. If Warmuth gets an engineering degree, his father will stop smoking. At the time, Warmuth was apprehensive and wasn't sure he had what it took, based on his past experience with math in school. But then he picked up an algebra book in Afghanistan and started studying.

"As I got further into the material and retaught myself what I thought I couldn't learn, it became more interesting to me," Warmuth said. "And it just continued and I kept building on it."

Warmuth and his father settled on an engineering degree because Warmuth's father knew his son needed to work in a field that challenged him. Engineers are on the forefront of technology, Warmuth said, and are constantly learning new things. It would be a good field to counteract how Warmuth approaches new things.

"I learn about something new, I get really interested, then I get borderline obsessive," Warmuth said. "And I pursue it to the point where I get bored because I learn everything that I think I can learn about it. And then it's not interesting to me anymore."

Honors focus

Warmuth is currently enrolled in 16 credits this semester at CLC, with eight of those credits coming in Honors courses. He's one of the first students who has chosen to do the Honors program concurrently with an engineering degree.

Warmuth's turnaround on his approach to education is partly due to his military experience, he said. He learned to commit and work hard at his job, a focus he now puts toward his education, his new full-time job, he said.

"This is what I'm here to do and it's going to get done," Warmuth said. "I've got the attitude that these are my responsibilities and they're going to get done."

Warmuth thought about taking honors courses when reviewing course schedules, he said. He noticed Honors classes took place in the same time and places as regular courses and wondered what the differences were between the courses. He didn't want to "take harder courses just for the heck of it," he said, so he wasn't sure about taking them.

Right before the semester started, Adam Marcotte, English instructor and Honors Program coordinator, called Warmuth.

"Basically, he's like 'You should be in the Honors Program,'" Warmuth said.

Warmuth told Marcotte he was concerned about fitting in the Honors courses with his engineering courses, but Marcotte assured him they'd be able to make it work. Now, Warmuth approaches his Honors courses with the same single-minded resolve he uses for the rest of his courses.

Warmuth enjoys the closer, personal relationships he's developing at CLC, versus being in a larger four-year institution.

"They have a lot of resources here," Warmuth said. "They really seem to care about their students."

Honors background

The Honors Program at CLC has been around since 2009, Marcotte said, but has started to look differently the past two years. The college has been tweaking the program to work with students who have a harder time fitting the courses into their schedules.

Students pursuing an associate degree have a lot of flexibility for taking general education courses, which makes it easier to take the required number of Honors courses, Marcotte said. But students pursuing technical degrees have an allotment of general education courses to take in order to finish their programs on time. It's harder to fit Honors courses into their schedules and still take all the courses needed to complete the programs.

"It's pretty tricky but the program is responsive to how that's going to work," Marcotte said.

This is the first year the Honors program has a number of students from outside the associate degree program, Marcotte said. Adding the Honors program to a technical degree enriches a student's college experience, he said.

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