Instructor recalls how 9/11 shaped her career

Court Reporting instructor Pamela Perry in her office with Marine Corps memorabilia.
Pamela Perry demonstrates equipment used in Court Reporting in her Madison College office.

On September 11, 2001, Gunnery Sgt. Pamela Perry had just received a challenge coin for her court reporting on a high-profile case against a general charged with falsifying records.

 

“Someone came into the room and said, ‘The world is going to hell,’” Perry recalled. It was the first she heard of the terrorist attacks, an event that would change the course of her career.

 

A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Perry joined the Marine Corps in August 1986. She began her career fixing aircraft and for the next 10 years held a variety of positions including a post in Okinawa, Japan. While stationed in Kansas City, Mo., Perry started taking stenography classes at a local college.

 

“I was a big fan of soap operas because I loved learning all the juicy details in the stories,” she said. Perry wasn’t satisfied with journalistic accounts of court trials, she wanted to know every bit of information that was used to make decisions. That curiosity led to her next career move.

 

Perry learned that the Marine Corps used court reporters to record proceedings of military trials. She decided to apply for the military court reporting school.

 

It was a pivotal decision. If she didn’t make it through the program, Perry would be out of the Marines. However, she succeeded and spent the next 13 years as a Marine Corps court reporter.

 

“The Marines is just a smaller version of society,” Perry said. She covered cases involving disciplinary issues, drugs, pedophilia, domestic violence, murder and theft.

 

Two years before her retirement, the Marine Corps was changing from stenographers to voice writers and her superiors wanted Perry to learn this new method. When she declined the training assignment, Perry was ordered to the court reporting detail at Guantanamo Bay Naval Air Station in Cuba where accused terrorists were on trial. For two years she flew back and forth as part of a five-person team to record the proceedings.

 

During her first court reporting classes, Perry thought one day she would like to run her own court reporting school. After retiring from the Marine Corps, she continued working as a civilian court reporter at the Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana.

 

One day, while surfing the internet, Perry found her ideal job. Madison Area Technical College was looking for a court reporting instructor. In January 2017, Perry came to Wisconsin for an interview and was hired.

 

“I’m in heaven,” she said of her position. “I’m living my dream and helping students achieve their dreams.”

 

Perry knows how hard it is to learn stenography. The first day of school she “cried like a baby.” Although it seems impossible to go from zero to 225 words per minute, she encourages students to hold on and trust their instructors.

 

The Court Reporting associate degree program can be completed on campus or online. Students learn to record two-voice testimony, jury charges and depositions. Graduates find positions as broadcast captioners, court and conference reporters, judicial court reporters, stenographers, realtime reporters and steno captionists. Some help individuals with hearing impairments through Communication Access Realtime Translation.

 

The National Court Reporters Association administers certification exams for many different areas of the field.

 

As a gunnery sergeant, Perry had command over other Marines. She helped train and mentor them. Although she has softened her approach, those skills come into play as she meets individually with her students each week either in person or through online calls.

 

“Pamela is dedicated and has a natural talent for connecting with students and guiding them through the training,” said Lisa Hubacher, program director and co-instructor. “The fact she has been all over the world brings a bigger-picture perspective to her teaching as well.”

 

As a court reporter, you never know where your career may take you.