Thursday, November 30, 2017


On November 15th, MTCC VISTA Connor Harbison hosted the Awards Ceremony for the 2017 Idea Challenge him and his team at Blackstone LaunchPad at Montana State University had been planning for months. This video pitch competition brought together 27 current MSU students to give 90 second elevator pitches for their business ideas and social ventures. This year, the Idea Challenge awarded $3,000 in prizes, garnered 1,869 votes and reached 532,586 social media profiles.

This year’s pitches included an all-natural cleaning solution, modular tiny homes, handmade duck calls, metal campfire rings, a bar arcade in downtown Bozeman, among others. Blackstone LaunchPad’s team of venture coaches assisted candidates with everything from ideation to preparing the pitches themselves.

“It was important to us to lower the bar to entry,” said Connor Harbison. “You don’t have to be a business major to have a great idea. That’s all it takes, one great idea. At the Blackstone LaunchPad, we believe that anyone can have a great idea, and we are here to help them make a thriving business out of it.”

This year’s Idea Challenge brought more diversity to the MSU's Blackstone LaunchPad than ever before. Nearly two thirds of the voters and site visitors were women, and the publicity effort before the formal contest engaged student groups from all over campus, including: UNITY, the Veteran Service Center, Society of Women Engineers, F-Word, Design Guild, and the Women’s Center at MSU. It is Blackstone's mission to break down assumptions of exclusivity in entrepreneurship.

Ultimately, six videos advanced through popular voting, while six were chosen by the preliminary jury of three entrepreneur alumni of the Blackstone LaunchPad’s venture coaching process. Five final judges reviewed the twelve finalist videos. Judges from banking, law, and tech, used their expertise to evaluate these finalists’ videos.  

Among the night’s winners was Adeline Sutich, who received the Rising Star Award for Young Entrepreneurship. Partnering with her father, Doug, who is a student at Montana State University, Adeline submitted Mr. Bubbles, a stuffed octopus who wanders from his tank every night to go on adventures throughout the home. The Rising Star Award is given for future potential and passion for the entrepreneurial process and pursuit.

“I may not have won any money tonight,” Adeline said, “but I’ll be making money when I sell my product.”

The 2017 Idea Challenge is in it's third iteration. In addition to this event, the Blackstone LaunchPad holds live pitch competitions, hosts visiting business leaders, and organizes programming to help innovative MSU students achieve their dreams.

“The Idea Challenge is just one way we can bring in new people to the process,” said MTCC VISTA
Connor Harbison. “People know they have good ideas, but sometimes they just need a little push to make it happen. One great idea can change your life, improve your financial situation, and empower new leaders.”

Every Idea Challenge submission can be viewed here.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017


On October 29th MTCC VISTA, Scarlett Day-Aleman and Lame Deer Boys and Girls Club VISTAs Christazia Johnson and Rebekah Guillotte hosted the second annual Lame Deer Talent Show. The Talent Show evolved this year from it’s first permutation as an art show in hopes to increase inclusivity to students beyond those with interest in visual arts. The VISTA Members hosted auditions for anything youth considered a talent.

This year’s talents ranged from hula hooping, to jump rope, to drumming, and beyond. Kids as young as five and as old as 18 were invited to participate. A total of eight students performed and 26 community members attended the event on what marked the first really cold and dreary day of the south eastern Montana winter season.

The cold contributed an additional barrier to the planning. The VISTA Talent Show coordinating team ended up switching dates twice before landing on the 29th. Regardless of the cold weather, and date disturbances, 6th grade student volunteers diligently secured rides to the venue on time, and an 8th grader took the lead as a lighthearted and loving MC.

When reflecting on the event’s successes MTCC VISTA Member Scarlett highlighted the opportunity it presented to build relationships with students outside of the attitudes and assumptions worn into school settings.

“I really liked hanging out at rehearsal with the kids. At first it was overwhelming watching them run ruckus over the practice room but slowly their energy funneled into these really beautiful skills. I learned a lot about our kids, and their culture, that I would have never thought to ask about. It is fun to watch kids dive into their passions.”

Thank you Scarlett, Christazia, and Rebekah for organizing these spaces for Lame Deer youth to practice and preform. We wish we could have been there, but will live through their stories and photos as a close second!

Monday, November 27, 2017


MTCC VISTAs Kaitlyn McCoy and Kaitlin Willbanks travelled with 11 high school students: 2 from Frazer, 1 from Wolf Point, 1 from Brockton, 7 from Poplar to the Twin Cities with American Indian College Funding (AICF) through the Bridge grant. AICF states the “The program aims to improve reading comprehension, research and essay-writing, understanding of math and science concepts, knowledge of college admissions processes, and awareness of the first-year college experience amongst program participants”.

From a Fort Peck Reservation context the grant is structured to support students who have a college going attitude. Bridge programming works to familiarize these students to the college application and admission process, learn about applicable resources such as FAFSA and private scholarships, and practice coursework they could expect at the college level.  

During this most recent trip to the University of Minnesota (UM) students were exposed to the feeling of an out of state college experience in a university community 2x the size of any Montana campus population. Native American students from UM led the Bridge campus visit. They talked about the importance of time management, financial literacy, while emphasizing the many resources available to Native Americans in the Minneapolis metro area. With total honesty they made college seem both challenging and approachable.

In addition to this campus visit Fort Peck high school students: learned how to navigate public transportation in a city, the Minnesota history of Dakota peoples’, explored museums, and tried new ethnic foods. They sipped lattes at Pow Wow Grounds Coffee which doubles as a Native Art Gallery, rode roller coasters at the Mall of America, and checked out St. Anthony Falls and the view of the Mississippi river.

A 14 hour Amtrak ride can feel extremely long but totally worth one completed college application and many personal growth experiences. Frazer student Taylor Reese noted two main take aways from this MN Bridge trip: 
1. I can transfer to a really nice college, with many other programs I never before considered. 2. I'm slowly becoming an extrovert again. Wow that second one really shocked me, but also is intentional.” 
Huge thanks to American Indian College Fund for funding these highly valuable learning opportunities for Montana students!

Friday, November 24, 2017


Jill, second from the right, with her fellow AmeriCorps leaders in 2012.
It was a bittersweet day for us this Monday, in Big Sky Country: Rocky Mountain College's Jill Washburn packed up a U-Haul, and is heading to Vermont. For the past five years Jill's been a great, consistent face of community engagement, service, volunteerism, veterans services and parent relations at Rocky, with Campus Compact, in Billings and across our state.

Before her time as a staffer at Rocky, Jill served two terms as an AmeriCorps leader -also with Rocky and  the American Red Cross- in Billings. In that capacity she organized responses to floods and disasters, and deployed to help with numerous natural disasters around the region and country. Jill's a Rocky alumna, and if you know her, you know that she's a spark plug for service! She's helped create one of our state's great campus-hosted community involvement/civic engagement offices at Rocky, has tirelessly promoted service, facilitated numerous Volunteers of the Game and Montana Athletes In Service, supervised AmeriCorps members, built a partnership with the Girl Scouts, organized and led alternative breaks, and done a ton to position Rocky as a strong, responsive campus whose students get world-class opportunities to learn and grow as citizens.

Jill's off to her next career move, in her home state of Vermont. And while we'll miss her, we also know that Vermont is lucky to have her back. Thanks, Jill!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017


My name is Maya Koepke and I’ve been serving as a MTCC VISTA in Libby, MT since August 2017. My VISTA Assignment Description is focused on strengthening our Gear Up and student internship programs at Libby Middle High School. In my past three months here I’ve learned that the Libby community takes great pride in the land they live on, the surrounding Kootenai National Forest. This year it has been an exciting honor, that our Kootenai National Forest was chosen to supply the National Christmas Tree to the White House lawn in Washington, DC.

The lighting of the National Christmas Tree is a 95 year long tradition. Starting in 1923. The first national tree was erected on the White House Lawn by DC Public Schools with permission from First Lady Grace Coolidge. Since then, the lighting ceremony of the national tree has played a significant role in events from the mourning of President Kennedy in 1963 to the celebration of the National Park Service Centennial in 2015.

This is the third year the Kootenai National Forest has supplied the National Christmas Tree. The 2017 tree was hand picked by Robert Malyevac and the National Forest Service. Superintendent of the Capitol Grounds, Ted Bechtol, then had to judge our Engelmann Spruce on height, width, branch thickness, and fullness. Finally, with Bechtol’s approval, a fifth generation Forest Service sawyer cut the Montana tree and Malyevac and his team packed it up for the journey back east. As the tree team makes its way across the country, they will stop in many towns and where Malyevac will have the opportunity to both educate about and celebrate the Kootenai National Forest.

On Tuesday, November 14th, the tree stopped at Libby Middle High School. We hosted it’s first huge outdoor assembly with all the schools in Libby. Many teachers mentioned this might be the first time in their careers they have seen the entire Libby youth present for one event. School children spelled out L-I-B-B-Y on the field as drones took photos from above. The band played, the chorus sang, and many prominent Libby community leaders spoke. The whole time our Engelmann Spruce was on a truck next to the ceremony decorated with handmade ornaments from surrounding towns of the Kootenai National Forest. The excitement was palpable as people went up to the tree and signed the banner hanging across truck. Students Lakyn and Zade Rewerts, ages 5 and 6 said it best, “It was a really big tree on a really big truck!”

Find out if the tree is coming to you here!