2009 Distinguished Alumni Honorees

Todd Perry
Co-owner of Max Ink Cafe, Visual Effects Artist

In 1986, David Fleming taught a cartooning class through the continuing education at Pierce College which started the formal education of teenager Todd Perry as he pursued his dreams of "making magic in Hollywood."

Perry, son of retired Pierce instructor Leslie Watts, is now an award-winning visual effects artist and technical director in Hollywood where he has worked on more than 55 film projects.

In describing his success in the creative field, Perry said he was inspired by the late Joseph Campbell, a leading authority on storytelling through myth, who said, "When you follow your bliss doors will open where you would not have thought there would be doors and where there wouldn't be a door for anyone else."

Perry acknowledged, "I've always tried to live my life by this; Pierce College not only offered classes that were part of my bliss, but also the practical classes I needed to pursue my bliss."

Although he completed only 15 credits at Pierce, Perry's has earned impressive professional credits since then. He was a member of a team in New Zealand that created visual effects for "Lord of the Rings--Two Towers" which garnered an Academy Award in 2002. In 2006, he won an Emmy as senior computer graphics technical director for "The Triangle," a three-part movie about the Bermuda Triangle produced for the Sci-Fi television channel. His work on "The Kite Runner" was nominated for the 2008 Visual Effects Society (VES) Award for Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a motion picture.

Other films Perry has been involved in include Stephen King's "The Mist" and Speedracer." In the fall, he worked on National Football League spots for ESPN and is currently visual effects supervisor for environmental effects in "2012" which will be released in November.

Besides working as a visual effects artist, Perry is also co-owner of Max Ink Productions, a movie production company known for producing "Border," an award-winning documentary focusing on the Mexican immigration and border controversy.

In his spare time, Perry says he has been "working on writing and developing screenplays and organizing my iTunes!"

Bill Boyer
Owner, Mokulele Airlines

Bill Boyer's entrepreneurial spirit has lifted him toward new horizons in the airline industry.

In 2001, the former baggage handler for Alaska Airlines developed a portable video player, which allows passengers to view movies and other entertainment "on demand" while in flight.

Boyer, a 1986 graduate of Pierce College Fort Steilacoom, got the idea for the device after reading about his employer's challenges providing in-flight entertainment. Thanks to Boyer, Alaska Airlines became the first customer for the "digEplayer." Boyer also sold the video player to other airlines.

Boyer added to the appeal of the device by convincing 20th Century Fox to provide first-run movies and other content for the player.

In 2003, Boyer sold the digEplayer to Alaska Airlines, which marketed and distributed it. With sale proceeds, Boyer purchased Hawaii's Mokulele Airlines in 2005.

Based in Kailua-Kona, the commuter airline operates scheduled inter-island and tour flights primarily among Hawaii's smaller airports on islands including Maui, Kona, Oahu and Molokai.

Nearly 80 percent of the Mokulele employees worked for Aloha Airlines before its demise.

Describing the Mokulele employees in a recent television interview in Hawaii, Boyer said, "We are like family, we have the aloha spirit."

In the same interview, Boyer indicated some hotels on islands served by Mokulele Airlines have seen an increase in occupancy, which they attribute to Mokulele's competitive pricing and service.

Although Boyer focuses most of his entrepreneurial energy on his Hawaiian company, he still has ties at home as owner of Cafe Escape, a Lakewood coffee house.

Dan Gaul
Co-owner & Chief of DigitalTrends.com, Technology Officer

Dan Gaul and his partner, Ian Bell, have transformed a Web site that started out as a hobby into one of the nation's largest online technology magazines attracting more than 2 million visitors each month.

Gaul, who graduated from Pierce College Fort Steilacoom in 1995, is chief technology officer (CTO) of Digitaltrends.com. in Lake Oswego, Ore. He and Bell founded the company five years ago. Attracting a primarily tech-savvy audience, the site features reviews, commentaries and video profiles of consumer electronic products. Topics include computers, laptops, digital cameras, video games, cell phones, MP3 players and camcorders as well as new trends in the consumer electronics industry.

Although Gaul and Bell started the site "strictly for fun" while holding down day jobs, DigitalTrends now has nine full-time employees and 15 contracted employees. The site has gained national attention with mentions on CNN, MSNBC and ,the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. The site's "editor's choice" logo is featured on a variety of electronics products' packaging and on manufacturers' sites including Samsung, Logitech and Hewlett-Packard.

To start the company, Gaul and his partner "bootstrapped ourselves--we didn't borrow any money or take any outside investments." Their business has been profitable ever since it was founded.

Gaul's pathway toward computer science began at Pierce College where he says, "I began to discover myself and my interests and developed a foundation for learning how to learn."

He added, "At Pierce, I found the instructors were open, available and willing to listen in a setting that is more intimate than at a larger university - an education at a community college like Pierce is an excellent value."

After graduating from Pierce, Gaul studied computer science at the University of Washington. He worked for Microsoft and Real Networks before starting Digital Trends.

As CTO of DigitalTrends, Gaul manages the company's servers and development teams and is responsible for research and management of technologies used in the day-to-day operation of the Web site.

Gaul also refers to himself as "an all-around evangelist for the company."

Armando Mejia
Military Outreach Director, Boys & Girls Clubs of South Puget Sound

Army veteran Armando Mejia, director of military outreach for the Boys and Girls Club of South Puget Sound "loves to see the smiles when the kids walk in the door...their faces light up."

In his job, the Purple Heart recipient and social worker provides guidance and support and serves as a role model for youth from the military communities and their families. The programs Mejia helps coordinate serve hundreds of children in South Sound communities from Belfair to Graham.

Menjia, a father of three, also volunteers for Special Olympics, ROTC programs and youth soccer.

Three years ago, Mejia was not so active and positive about his life. He spent his days at Fort Lewis recuperating from severe injuries, which nearly took his life in 2004. He endured more than 20 surgeries to recover from the injuries he sustained when the Humvee he was riding in exploded while serving in Iraq. The Army Sergeant also suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Distorder (PTSD).

At the time, Mejia was a member of a Fort Lewis unit which helps soldiers with complex medical issues prepare to return to their military careers or civilian life.

With encouragement from his unit staff, Mejia enrolled in a psychology course at the Pierce College Education Center at Fort Lewis.

The instructor, Dr. Bennie Thompson, encouraged Mejia to write about PTSD.

In a News Tribune feature, Mejia is quoted as saying, "I was hooked. I just wanted to know more and more and eventually help people."

After receiving his associate's degree from Pierce, Mejia enrolled at the University of Washington Tacoma to pursue a degree in social work.

To fulfill a requirement for a practicum, he became involved in the Boys and Girls Club.

Finding working with youth fulfilling and "like therapy," he joined the the Boys and Girls Club's Hope Center staff in Lakewood part-time in 2007. In July of 2008, he was promoted to his current position.

Commenting about his work, Mejia said, "When I'm working in the clubs, I see about 200 smiles a day. I love the atmosphere there."