Engineering a future: RCTC student relishes new challenges as a budding engineer

Deneen featured Image

Sibling rivalry comes into play when RCTC student Matthew Deneen talks about his competition with his brother, who is in Duluth, Minn., becoming a Doctor of Physical Therapy.

“We’re competing, because both of us want to be better than the other one in our own playful way, so I can’t let him be the only doctor in the family now,” Deneen, president of the RCTC Computer Aided Drafting (CAD) Technology Club, says.

While some of his drive comes from friendly competition, a lot is born from wanting to conquer challenges.

And that makes sense when you find out that Deneen has a lot of inspiration around him. His father is a nuclear engineer and works with all power plants in the tristate area; his mother was an occupational therapist.

“I wanted to push myself to do better than both of them,” Deneen says.

With that in mind, he headed to Dakota County Technical College and enrolled in the Nanoscience Technology program, offered in partnership with the University of Minnesota.

“You went there, and you jumped into essentially learning how to do graduate level work right out of high school,” says Deneen.

While there he conducted research projects, and thought his instructors were phenomenal.

But then it came time to give a presentation for a final at the end of the semester.

“I realized everyone was looking at me not for my research ability, but for my engineering and design ability,” Deneen says of the presentation. “It clicked (he snaps his fingers) in my head that, ‘Hey, I’m going to school for the wrong thing.’”

After reconsidering his future, Deneen was enticed by the drafting and machining programs at RCTC. Deneen enrolled last year and did both programs at the same time, tackling about 30 credits a semester.RCTC_CAD_PMT_9835

He’s now finishing up the second year of CAD, and does not regret the workload.

Deneen says Precision Manufacturing Technology (PMT) instructor Brian Bahr is “one of the most educated and well-rounded instructors” he’s ever had, because he tailors the coursework to what each student wants to learn.

That meant Deneen got to focus on what he wanted to the most: coding and programming. He also says Pam Benson and Jacqueline Deml-Mauseth are great instructors for CAD.

“It hasn’t really felt like work or stress,” Deneen says of his courses. “It’s like playtime when I show up to classes.”

A history of challenges  

Deneen is looking for his next challenges and how to overcome them – something he’s done since a very early age.

He has worn hearing aids since he was young, and may have needed them since birth. Doctors initially weren’t willing to test his hearing but finally relented when he was three.

“I think until I was like 5 or 6 years old, I thought my name was Mahew, because I couldn’t hear the th in the middle,” Deneen remembers.

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Another story he recalls takes place after receiving his first pair of hearing aids. His parents found him in the kitchen shuffling his feet.

“I could finally hear that for the first time,” says Deneen.

His hearing loss can’t be treated, and Deneen admits there were issues early on like speaking correctly and hearing teachers lecture when he was younger.

“I don’t think it was an impairment… I see it as just another challenge to push through,” Deneen says. “I saw it as more of a challenge than an impact, and it’s made me, in my opinion, a better person because of it.”

The next step

Deneen’s immediate goal is to get a job, and he may have one lined up with Wipaire in South St. Paul.

Deneen has always been fascinated with airplanes, boats, and vehicles, particularly military ones due to his dad working with them years ago. So, when he had the opportunity to be a machinist intern, he says Wipaire felt right.

“They primarily manufacture floats for aircraft like seaplanes,” Deneen explains.

RCTC_CAD_PMT_9770He worked in the shop with three others and learned a great deal, not only in machining, but a number of other fields as he bounced around from task to task.

Eventually he was trusted with designing a cart for Wipaire’s riveters in the factory building where they put the float skins on the template.

They thought what Deneen came up with “was a brilliant idea,” and the RCTC student hopes to work there some day in the engineering department.

Deneen will be done with school in the spring, so he’ll be overcoming some new obstacles very soon, possibly at Wipaire. His long-term goal is to go back to school and get a higher degree in engineering or physics.

Wherever he goes, Deneen is relishing the challenge – and hopefully one-upping his brother.

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