From the Editor’s Desk

Nick Ducharme

Nick Ducharme

Hey there,

Welcome to the April issue of Memo to Members! As per usual, I’m very excited about our upcoming monthly chapter meeting. In fact, I can’t stress enough how vital this month’s subject matter is to just about any organization’s reputation.

This Thursday, April 16th, our chapter will gather to view a presentation on risk communication by Ms. Dawnell Claessen, an information policy analyst with more than 25 years of experience as a technical communicator. We will also be handing out the coveted Melissa Pellegrin Memorial Scholarship to a couple of very deserving technical communicators from the University of Central Florida. (More on that will follow later in this edition.)

Please click here to RSVP and to learn more about this event. I look forward to seeing many of you there.


Additionally, here are some upcoming live web seminars that will be available on the STC website. I’m seeing an impressive variety that I believe has something to offer each of us, so check one out if you have the time! (If you take notes, perhaps you could even write an article for a future edition of Memo to Members. We would be thrilled to have you on board.)

DITA: A Day in the Life
Wednesday, 15 April 2015 | 2:00–3:00 PM EDT (GMT-4)

Yes, Technical Communication Can Be Lifesaving Work!
Wednesday, 22 April 2015 | 2:00–3:00 PM EDT (GMT-4)

A Primer on Findability
Wednesday, 6 May 2015 | 2:00–3:00 PM EDT (GMT-4)

How Do I Pick the Right Tool for Me?
Wednesday, 13 May 2015 | 2:00–3:00 PM EDT (GMT-4)

Get Noticed and Get Promoted
Wednesday, 20 May 2015 | 2:00–3:00 PM EDT (GMT-4)

REST API Overview and Documentation Best Practices
Wednesday, 3 June 2015 | 2:00–3:00 PM EDT (GMT-4)

It’s Time to Spruce Up Your Writing!
Wednesday, 10 June 2015 | 2:00–3:00 PM EDT (GMT-4)


With no further ado, please read on, dear communicators.

Nick Ducharme
Editor, Memo to Members

A View From Number Two

Mary Burns

Mary Burns

By: Mary Burns
Vice President
Orlando Central Florida Chapter, STC

It’s hard to believe April is upon us. Visiting a friend’s garden Saturday morning, I enjoyed the heavenly scent of jasmine blooming all over the back fence. Other flowers are popping out all over, from azaleas to zinnias. Each adds its unique color, texture, and fragrance to the Florida spring.

The technical communication field is similarly diverse. In STC and on the job, I’ve encountered people with experience in the sciences, aerospace, hospitality, real estate, education, human resources, and finance. One of my coworkers even documented a product that laid undersea cables.

I’m looking forward to exploring yet another species of our profession at this month’s presentation by Dawnell Claessen: risk communication. Like any technical communication, it involves telling people what they need to know, when they need to know it—but in situations where it really, really matters. These can include fighting terrorism, preventing disease, preserving health, dealing with disasters, or protecting a company from loss when a project or asset is at risk.

This topic promises to be anything but garden-variety, so I hope to see you at the April meeting!

If You Missed the Last Meeting (Special Edition)

Editor’s Note:
This month, we bring you something special from the chapter community. While normally our beloved Secretary, R.D. Sharninghouse, provides meeting recap entries, this time we had a generous volunteer who was so inspired by the events of the March Employment Panel that he wanted to share his recollections with us! Please enjoy.


If You Missed the Last Meeting
By: Stefano Coledan

It felt like a punch in the face, a kick in the groin, and a bucket of icy water cascading onto me—all at once—one minute after 1:00 p.m., on Friday, June 6, 2014.

I went to my boss’s office to update him on my work week, to get some feedback, and hopefully to be briefed on future projects. I barely had time to sit down.

“Stefano, I have bad news for you,” my boss said. “Today was your last day.” I felt as though I was in free fall into a horrid abyss. Ten months have gone by, but the echo of those short, devastating sentences still reverberates inside me as if it were now.

I had been working at the Kennedy Space Center for a little over two years as a technical writer, hired by a NASA contractor. I had realized the dream of joining the space program, and had been whistling my way to work since day one.

As a government agency, NASA can ask contractors to hire or lay off employees at its own discretion. I was “an employee in good standing.” Yet, my position was eliminated, as my dismissal letter stated.

After pondering and wondering about my options, I sought initiatives I could take on my own. One of was becoming a member of the Society of Technical Communicators’ Orlando Central Florida chapter. I joined in the fall.

Communication is Key

At our March meeting, we were joined by Kelli Pharo and Mark Wray, two long-time professionals who have helped lead our chapter to greater heights. Ms. Pharo and Mr. Wray came to provide tips, advice and opinions on how to land a good job—and how to keep it. It was an enlightening session that instilled hope, inspiration, and a needed nudge for me to escape desperation.

Ms. Pharo explained that almost right away, as a new hire, she started interacting with people one-on-one. Part of her strategy was making it a point to talk to all employees, step by step, introducing herself to every one of them.

“That’s what I should have done!” I told myself, and that’s what I failed to do. After nine months of job and soul searching, and endless frustration, I finally realized what I could have done differently.

I’m not saying it was all my fault, or that I could have kept my job, if only I had come up with some clever thought of my own. But it wouldn’t have hurt, either.

“Talk to the people” was the policy Ms. Pharo adopted and suggested to us. “Let them know what you can do for them.”

While at NASA, I assumed my superiors and company higher ups would have officially introduced me to chiefs and employees of the different offices and departments. I was there to assist and help with my writing and editing skills, and a number of innovative ideas.

It may sound like I behaved presumptuously, but that was not the case. If anything, I was trying to avoid stepping on anybody’s toes.

After some initial projects I worked on and finished successfully, I noticed that my activity flow remained all but stationary, instead of increasing. That should have set off powerful alarms in my head. I came up with something I believed could be a win-win solution. Instead, it backfired.

Other Useful Advice

Getting back to our March meeting, we learned that technical writers can be somewhat quirky, as Mr. Wray put it. He said they shouldn’t forget that companies will put up with some peculiarities. When it comes to real business, however, all employees better demonstrate that they fit the mold—that they can control and tune down their quirkiness.

Employers want employees to get along even when they disagree. You still can be and should be yourself, Mr. Wray said. It was a suggestion that complemented Ms. Pharo: “Figure out what’s important to the person or the organization that you work for, and make that your priority.”

According to Mr. Wray, a practical example could be showing your knack for digging up information from the Internet and turning that into your specialty. “Skills build opportunity.”

In other words, demonstrate that you have skills and can accomplish things others cannot, and an employer might even create a position specifically for you. That’s how things went for Ms. Pharo, and they just kept improving. Now she owns her own business.

Particularly important, when you offer to provide assistance to someone, is the way you phrase it. Chances are that sooner or later you will bump into some overly sensitive individual. A quick sentence, such as, “Here’s what we need to do,” could do the trick, and you may earn the esteem and gratitude of yet another colleague.

Mr. Wray addressed the ever present “networking” topic by explaining the usefulness of the Linked-In website, calling it a mobile business card: a virtual place where you can post your résumé, list any particular skills, and add video (hopefully relevant), alongside a professional picture of yourself. Apparently, recruiters are more likely to read profiles and choose candidates who post a professional portrait photo of themselves.

Are there any special words or expressions that could help someone get a job? Knowing and showing that you are familiar with the intricacies of a particular job could get you hired on the spot. Here’s one we learned: “I know how to lock down styles in Word.” Hired!

Practical Application: Hidden Skills

I had no intention of closing this article by telling more about myself, but I just happened to remember something from a couple of decades ago, back in Italy. My former boss told more than one person about a skill I didn’t even realize I had.

He mentioned my ability in solving conflict and settling situations that would make other people throw up their hands and refuse to even try. Apparently, he considered that skill important enough to keep me in that position until I turned in my resignation letter, informing him I was moving to the States.

To conclude, I have to wonder how often this may be happening. It is possible that many of us have more potential than we know, and that we could use it, as long as someone truly skilled pointed us in the right direction.

The Words of Past Pellegrin Recipients

As I mentioned in the opening paragraphs of this edition, we will be announcing the 2015 recipients of the Melissa Pellegrin Memorial Scholarship at this month’s chapter meeting on risk communication.

Now, I thought about stressing how much of an impact that this scholarship makes in our community—but then I realized that the actual recipients of the honor can say it better than anyone. The lives and minds that have been touched by it really do speak for themselves.


Comments from Recipients
Of a Melissa Pellegrin Memorial Scholarship

“I was truly honored to be one of the earliest Melissa Pellegrin Memorial Scholarship recipients and to be included in a long line of outstanding technical communicators by the Society of Technical Communication. It was awarded at a point that validated my career choice as a technical writer.”

“Currently, my certificate hangs on my office wall adjacent to my UCF diploma in recognition of my accomplishments.”

Sharon K. Wissert
Pellegrin Scholarship 1997

“At the time I received the Pellegrin Scholarship, I was in much need of the scholarship money. I was a single mom who quit her job to finish college full time. Not only did the scholarship help with my living expenses, but the honor of being a Pellegrin Scholarship recipient assisted me in establishing great professional relationships that enabled me to further my career.”

Ann K. Vogt
Pellegrin Scholarship 1997

“Receiving the Melissa Pellegrin scholarship was both an encouragement and an honor. The fact that I was chosen to receive a scholarship bearing Melissa’s name meant a lot to me because I knew from others that she was a diligent, professional, caring person. Being recognized and honored in a tangible way for my hard work as a student encouraged me to continue with the technical writing program at UCF.”

“My current professional role is that of a part-time freelancer—most recently testing K-6 mathematics software. My professional role is part-time now so that I may devote as much time as possible to my new full-time, personal role of ‘Mommy’ to my 16-month-old son.”

Michele Damron
Pellegrin Scholarship 1997

“I was truly honored to be among the first recipients of the Melissa Pelligrin scholarship. Receiving the award seemed validating, as I worked hard for my master’s in technical writing during a difficult personal period. The recognition, and yes, the money, came at a much-needed time. Also, I was acquainted with Melissa and knew what an exemplary student, and later, professional, she was. To receive an award in her name was really meaningful.”

“Even back then, I suspected I would use my master’s in a ‘non-traditional’ setting and indeed have spent the last six years doing administrative work at UCF. For several years when I taught writing courses and directed an advising office, I enjoyed introducing many students to technical writing. In my current position, I spend most of my time writing, primarily policies and procedures. My colleagues have come to appreciate the skill set a technical writer can bring to administration, and I’ve been able to connect them with technical writing students to work on various campus projects. Currently, I’m at work on a doctorate in Higher Education Administration, where I spend lots of time … writing.”

Melanie Woods
Assistant to the Vice Provost, Regional Campuses
University of Central Florida
Pellegrin Scholarship 1997

“The Pellegrin scholarship meant a lot to me. It was not only helpful towards funding my education, for which I am extremely grateful, it was also meaningful to me because it came from STC. I have always valued my membership and participation in STC, and to be recognized by such a group was both flattering and encouraging. I will never forget the charity and recognition bestowed upon me by the Pellegrin family and the members of the STC Orlando chapter.”

“Currently, I work in Maitland as a Technical Editor II with PBS&J, an engineering and planning firm, in its aviation division. My husband and I plan to adopt a baby from Russia this summer, at which time my company has agreed to let me work part-time from home. As a side note—I really miss school, and would LOVE to go back some day.”

Kelli (Cooper) Pharo
Technical Editor II
Pellegrin Scholarship 1998

“For me, winning the Melissa Pellegrin scholarship was a validation that I had chosen the right path. After receiving my bachelor’s degree in creative writing and having spent a lifetime telling myself I was not technical in the least, I was more than a little apprehensive about pursuing a graduate degree in technical writing. During my first year in the program, though, I found myself thoroughly interested in the subject matter and was excelling in my courses; my confidence in my ability to become an effective technical communicator grew, and receiving the award was a much-needed confirmation that others had that same confidence in me. The knowledge and support I received at UCF, the Melissa Pellegrin scholarship -— all of it helped turn me into the person who now, 6 years later, is excelling at a position in FedEx’s information technology division. In my job there are not a lot of people with non-computer science degrees, and I’m very appreciative of all that it took to build my confidence to the point that I feel I am on par with the techies :)”

Anna Gaal
Senior Business Application Analyst
FedEx Corporate Services
Pellegrin Scholarship 1998

“… being presented with such an award that holds so much esteem was one of my most distinguished academic accomplishments. As I move forward in my career, I can always present the fact that I was the recipient of a well-respected academic accolade that venerates and congratulates students with talent, focus, and a commitment to their craft. I am privileged to have been one of these fine recipients and hope that in the years to come, future students with that marked distinction of brilliant talent, intrepid focus, and relentless commitment to the art of writing will always be acknowledged through the Melissa Pellegrin Scholarship Fund.”

Mireille Shebbein
Technical Writer
The Hartford Group Benefits
Pellegrin Scholarship 2000

“I was honored to receive the Melissa Pellegrin graduate scholarship in 2000. This scholarship helped me through a particularly rough time as I was at the time working two part-time jobs and finishing two degrees from UCF. The funds provided by the Pellegrin scholarship allowed me to purchase books and supplies necessary for my classes, and allowed me to take some time away from work to complete my thesis. I am very grateful to Melissa’s parents for their generosity, to the STC Education Committee for selecting me from among many deserving students, and to UCF’s Technical Writing faculty for nominating me for this award.”

Rudy McDaniel
Computer Specialist, UCF, and T7T Doctoral Student
Pellegrin Scholarship 2000

“Throughout high school, and even the first two years of college, I often struggled with my courses and certainly did not receive any awards or scholarships. However, the semester I began my technical writing courses at the University of Central Florida, I felt a new willingness and excitement to learn and develop my writing and communication skills. This newly found interest in my coursework was also reflected in my grades, helping me to realize that this field might one day become a career where I could be successful and enjoy my tasks.”

“Receiving the Melissa Pellegrin Scholarship at that point in my life was perfect because it motivated me to grow and develop my skills in the professional world, despite the obstacles. It was also wonderful to share the news with my parents and friends who saw me struggle with paying for school and the frustration with earlier classes. Knowing that I was selected by a panel of professionals provided me with confidence and pride in my work as well as anticipation for what the future may hold.”

“This is a very prestigious award at UCF. I am honored to be a recipient of this award and hope that it continues to inspire students to see what the technical communication field has to offer.”

Christina Payne
Technical Writer
(Marketing writing for information technology (IT) products)
Lockheed Martin
Enterprise Information Systems
Orlando, Florida
Pellegrin Scholarship 2001

“After a last-minute change of heart, I veered away from … English Literature and instead enrolled in the technical writing graduate program at UCF. I had no tech writing experience, and I had only ever used a computer to write my English essays. So from the start, I always felt that I had to work really hard just to try to ‘catch up’ to the other students and keep pace. Two students who especially influenced me while I was in the program were Anna Gaal and Rudy McDaniel, both of whom are Pellegrin scholarship winners. They set a very high standard for their fellow students, and I learned a lot from just being around them and seeing the work they produced. When I found out that I had been awarded the Melissa Pellegin scholarship, I was at first humbled to be included such company. But at the same time, that was the moment when I first looked back and realized how far I’d come. And that was the moment when I first began to really think of myself as a technical writer. So the scholarship has helped me immensely—it signaled to me that I was on the right track and gave me the confidence I needed to keep working and learning.”

Jason Nichols
Technical Writer
Pellegrin Scholarship 2001

“While the Melissa Pellegrin Scholarship helped me pay for summer tuition, the true value in receiving this award runs much deeper -— it is representative of quality and excellence in technical writing, and I am honored to have received it. As many UCF students know, Melissa embodied every positive characteristic a technical writer could aspire to have. In her honor, I will strive to carry on this legacy of excellence.”

Bonnie Spivey
Editor/Technical Writer
Walt Disney World
Information Technology – IT Documentation Team
Pellegrin Scholarship 2003

“When I received the Melissa Pellegrin scholarship I found it motivating to be recognized within my field. This award symbolizes excellence in technical communication, and it offers assurance to prospective employers that I am capable of high-quality work. But this award is special because it is a memorial for Melissa Pellegrin, a young technical communicator much like those of us who have received the award. The recipients of the award are chosen by local professionals, many of whom knew Melissa, so they are highly selective. I am honored to have received the award.”

Cindy Hauptner
Future Doctoral Program Candidate
Pellegrin Scholarship 2003

“The Melissa Pellegrin Memorial Scholarship is more than simply a certificate and check. It is a symbol of excellence in honor of an excellent technical communicator. I am proud to be one of the few recipients of this scholarship.”

Bob Stultz
Future Law School Candidate
Pellegrin Scholarship 2003

“It’s a great honor to receive the award and to be able to carry on Melissa’s tradition. I know that only very talented students are selected, and I am proud to be considered one of their number.”

Melanie Trickey
Graduating Senior
Pellegrin Scholarship 2004

I feel honored to receive this prestigious scholarship. To be selected by professionals in the field and receive recognition for my hard work, inspires me and gives me confidence in my abilities. It motivates me to push myself to excel so I can continue the tradition of excellence set by Melissa Pellegrin.

Peggy Bivins
Pellegrin Scholarship 2005

It is an honor to be among the recipients of such a special award. The Melissa Pellegrin Scholarship is a testament to the close bond that exists between Orlando-STC and the University of Central Florida. This scholarship will help me get to my technical writing summer internship at Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp in Boulder, Colorado.

Alex Garcia
Pellegrin Scholarship 2005

For me, STC Orlando helped bridge the gap between school and work. As a graduate student without a background in technical writing, I gained practical experience from the workshops, lectures, job fairs, and other services that STC provided. The culmination of this professional, academic, and personal support was being awarded the Melissa Pellegrin Scholarship. The scholarship allowed me to focus on career and academic development. Receiving this honor made me feel for the first time like I was a member of the technical writing community – a society in which one’s contributions are embraced, amplified, and celebrated.

Carrie Avery Blaustein
Scientific Editor
University of Florida
Pellegrin Scholarship 2005

This year (my junior year) of college, I have become highly immersed in the world of technical writing. Not only am I actively involved throughout the organizations, but I am also heavily promoting the major for the future students of the program. I am grateful for the opportunity to share my wisdom, and serve as an example, for many students who are unsure about the direction of their college education.

Most of all – this scholarship is recognition for my hard workout through school, work, FTC, and STC. It is acknowledgement that my contributions to all facets of technical writing do not go unnoticed. Considering the list of previous winners, it is an honor to be considered among them.

Rachel Eichen
Pellegrin Scholarship 2006

To me, the scholarship serves a dual purpose: it is a way to honor Melissa Pellegrin’s memory and a source of fuel for my future.

Jen Juneau
Pellegrin Scholarship 2006

I feel privileged and accomplished to receive the Melissa Pellegrin Scholarship for 2006. This award transcends the recognition and monetary value because I believe in the technical communication profession and am honored to be affiliated with all of the predecessors who exemplify Melissa’s caliber. I am proud to represent the STC, UCF and the Central Florida technical writing community.

Heather Stearns
Pellegrin Scholarship 2006

When I began college I wasn’t even sure what wanted to do, but once I chose technical writing, I decided to give it my best efforts. Receiving this scholarship is an honor that recognizes and validates my efforts in school. But more importantly, receiving this award encourages me to continue what I’ve begun with the hope that some day soon I can start to return the favor to the technical communication community. I am extremely thankful to receive this honor and encouragement.

Daniel Beck
Pellegrin Scholarship 2007

Since the announcement of my name as a recipient of the Melissa Pellegrin Memorial Scholarship, I have felt an even deeper amount of positive reinforcement and professional encouragement from my fellow chapter members than I did at my first STC meeting. It is no surprise to me that this organization created a scholarship program like this in honor of another fellow member whose talent and life impacted many individuals. I am honored and privileged to be a recipient of this prestigous award because I know what it means to all of the members who knew and respected Melissa. I am proud to be involved in continuing her legacy as a scholarship winner.

Ashley Carney
Pellegrin Scholarship 2007

Receiving the Melissa Pellegrin Memorial Scholarship reaffirms my success as a college student and STC’s commitment to funding capable technical communication students. The scholarship will help me as I apply to graduate schools in the near future.

My life has been filled with more up-and-downs than a pool of tidal waves. Staying focused and determined has helped me earn this scholarship. For students interested in pursuing this scholarship in the future, I recommend becoming or remaining active in STC and FTC. Find ways to contribute to these organizations because you will get more out of it than you think.

Michael Wilson
Pellegrin Scholarship 2010

I was very grateful to receive the Melissa Pellegrin Scholarship. I consider my membership in STC to be one of the activities I most enjoy. I have gained so much from the amazing members and programs provided by the Orlando Chapter. The scholarship helped me finish out my last semester at UCF and I am very grateful to be blessed by the generosity of the Orlando Chapter of the STC.

Sarah Baca
Pellegrin Scholarship 2011

It is an honor to receive the Melissa Pellegrin Scholarship. Having been involved with STC for the past two years, I have met previous recipients of the scholarship and seen how they have carved out successful careers as technical communicators. Receiving the Pellegrin scholarship inspires me to follow their footsteps.

The scholarship has helped fund my trip to the STC international conference this year, where I was able to learn greatly from technical communicators across the world. I am extremely grateful to the Orlando Chapter for making this experience possible.

Patricia Cruz
Pellegrin Scholarship 2011

I could go on with statements from recent recipients such as Brittney Adams, Bethany Bowles, Calen Crate, Cory Bullinger, Candace Du Lac, Charles Maise, and James Vrhovac, but I think that we’ve made our point! Congratulations in advance to the new names about to be added to this impressive list.

Nick Ducharme
Editor, Memo to Members


Tales from Da Voice, or, Taking Care of Each Other

Mike Murray

Mike Murray

By: Mike Murray
Former Chapter President

The purpose of this blog is to share the physical and mental details of one man’s life (mine!) with the hope that if you are undergoing any of the physical and/or emotional symptoms as documented in the blog, you will share them with your healthcare professional immediately. The sooner a potential problem is identified, the better your chances of recovery. All of the maladies discussed in this blog represent my first-hand experiences.

Ultimately, I hope to open an international dialog between some of the readers who share one or more of these maladies. By sharing the ways they deal with these conditions, many others will benefit from their solutions. It is so very important to talk about your situation and not hide anything. Via this blog I hope you will find a friend with whom you can share empowering words that encourage you to take care of yourself, take pride in taking care of yourself, and get rid of any shame in having certain symptoms.

Again, these are just suggestions. Be sure to check with your healthcare professional before you make any change to your established healthcare plan.

Note: Anything and everything that you find in this blog reflects nobody’s opinion other than that of the author and contributing readers. Remember, this is only opinion. I am not a doctor. If something you read concerns you, be certain to see your primary care physician as soon as possible. This caveat is repeated on my Disclaimer page.