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New Century Scholar Luke Christensen hopes pinball makes a comeback

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Luke repairs a machine

Luke Christensen repairing one of several pinball machines he has at home.

This Portland Community College alum really loves repairing a “mean” pinball machine.

Luke Christensen, 32, graduated from PCC’s Electronic Engineering Technology Program last June and one day hopes to own a pinball machine factory. He began noodling on the idea after hearing a personal gaming hero speak at a 2016 Portland expo about the inner workings of pinball machines. This prompted Christensen to explore the older gaming art form.

“Like many people of my generation, I grew up playing video games,” said Christensen, who wasn’t exposed to vintage pinball machines as a youth in rural Iowa. “But pinball machines are very intriguing.”

Luke Christensen
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His interest in making pinball machines led him to PCC in 2017. Christensen already had a bachelor’s degree in Theater Arts, but when he was laid off from Portland Public Schools, he enrolled in PCC’s EET program, which gave him options to re-career into an in-demand field. Christensen used scholarships and guidance from Worksystems’ Reboot Northwest, the Workforce Investment Act, and the PCC Foundation to succeed in his classes.

His 3.8 grade-point average earned him a spot on the President’s List, and a National Science Foundation Award. Christensen, who mentored fellow students in the STEM Club at Sylvania’s MakerLab, was named a member of the 2019 All-Oregon Academic Team. This was followed by a national 2019 New Century Workforce Pathway Scholarship, with Christensen ranking as the highest scoring scholar from the state.

After graduation last summer, he quickly found work at an electronics manufacturer, Cascade Systems Technology, in Hillsboro. As the lead of its test department, Christensen is learning the ins and outs of manufacturing.

In his spare time, Christensen fuels his pinball passion by refurbishing old models. He looks for pinball machines built in the 1970s and 1980s, then uses the skills he learned at PCC to troubleshoot their vintage wiring and components, which he finds fun. Christensen likens the process to a mechanic fixing a car, since both require regular maintenance and fine-tuning.

“It’s like a sculpted piece of art that lights up,” said Christensen, who enjoys discovering the different narratives the machines present as part of their game-play engineering.

“It’s a really interesting all-American art form. My plan is to keep restoring games, add features to them, and then sell them, until I am ready to build my own from scratch,” he said. “I see a lot of opportunities to introduce more, and younger, people to pinball. I think it will be a beautiful thing when it catches on with the next generation.”

Luke receives his New Century Scholar award.

In 2019, Christensen earned a New Century Scholarship from the Association of Community College Trustees in San Francisco.

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, is the Public Relations Manager at Portland Community College. A graduate of Portland State University, James has worked as a section editor for the Newberg Graphic, Wo... more »

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