Dan Mergner enrolled part- time at RACC in 2008 and now, as a full-time student, is on pace to graduate in 2013 with a degree in Respiratory Care. When he gets his degree, he's hoping to also leave a present, of sorts, for RACC.
Inspired by Day in the Life projects that TIME magazine made popular in the 1970s, Dan is working on a grant proposal for Mi Vida, which means My Life. His idea is to provide cameras for RACC students to capture everyday images at home, including cultural celebrations and holidays. The best images would be organized and then shown, either on campus or at a local gallery like Goggleworks, to offer a look at the life of Hispanic Americans.
"Diversity and the encouragement of diversity make RACC a natural fit for a project like this," said Dan. "Reading ranks high on the list nationally for poverty and I think RACC is like a bridge out of poverty."
Dan undertook a similar project with the Police Athletic League in 2003 where he gave disposable cameras and basic photography lessons to Reading city youth. He said the photos they captured now adorn the Crime Prevention Office in Harrisburg.
The idea for the RACC project was revitalized as part of a class assignment for professor Danelle Bower's Poverty and Social Welfare course. Dan is now working with the Multicultural Committee to identify funding for the project.
Dan's interest in photography runs back to his days in the Army, which he joined after graduating from Governor Mifflin as a way to get money for college.
His college of choice was the Art Institute of Philadelphia after a photograph he had taken captured third place in a nationally-known amateur contest. He developed a specialty in documentary photography, like the Mi Vida project, and his work was shown at events in Philadelphia, New York and Reading.
After graduating, Dan found a good job working in Information Technology but soon became bored and realized he wanted to do something else. He said his wife Krystal was his biggest supporter.
"My wife enables my vision, she has supported the family while I attend school, and was one of the first people telling me to leave my job and step into the academic world," he said. "Without her none of this would be possible."
Dan's attention gravitated to the medical field, specifically respiratory care, after his infant son came down with a respiratory infection.
"He was four months old and I had to take a week off from work to stay home. He had to get breathing treatments several times a day," Dan said.
He met with RACC’s program coordinator in the summer and found he was too late to apply for entry that year. He had plenty of classes to occupy his time though, since he had to complete his general education requirements first.
“I had to take all of my general courses like anatomy and biology,” said Dan. “I also am trying to become fluent in Spanish so I can communicate with patients, so I have been taking a lot of Spanish classes.”
Dan is now accepted into the program and appreciates how RACC gave him the opportunity to juggle his schedule. “For my time management, I utilized evening classes because it was easier to find someone to care for my son at night. That’s the great thing about RACC – they have classes at all hours.”
After graduation, Dan said he is looking for a job in respiratory care that will involve working with pediatric patients.