Our Student Interns

You've seen them on campus or at your center. You may wonder who they are and what they do. Now you can read about the students serving as CCC environmental sustainability interns in this web series. 

Paid Internship Opportunities Available

Leah Wagoner (November 2016 - present)

 Leah Wagoner dreams of owning a tiny house and running a business out of it … someday. 

For now, she’s working on the education that could make the dream a reality. She’s enrolled in Bellevue University’s accelerated business program and is completing her general education classes at Central Community College-Grand Island. 

This is the latest educational step for Wagoner, a Hastings native whose family moved to Missouri where she earned a high school diploma through a GED program at age 16. She then returned to Nebraska where she completed certified nursing assistant classes at CCC at age 17. 

These days, she’s not only a CCC student. She’s also an environmental sustainability professional intern. 

“The internship is so important,” she said. “It’s helping me to build relationships and to network with students and faculty. It’s giving me a chance to learn new things and gain experience.” 

She also sees it as a component of her business classes where her focus is on sustainable cities. 

“I believe in plugging into the community and making it better,” she said. “I also believe in baby steps, that we don’t have to do something 100 percent right away. I want people to see sustainability measures are easy.” 

In her position as an intern, she has helped with the college’s Earth Week activities in Grand Island and Hastings, Green Fling in Hastings and the Hard Hats and Heels youth camp and Walk with the Mayor in Grand Island. 

Being an intern has helped Wagoner in other ways. “I always try to be positive and walk through any fear,” she said. “Working as an intern means I’m putting myself out there, getting my name out there.” 

When she isn’t taking classes or working to further sustainability, she enjoys spending time with her two children, 17-year-old Trevor and 11-year-old Cody. She also recently became engaged to Jeff Engelhaupt, a product specialist at Midway Auto in Kearney and a CCC graduate.

Liang Loo (June 2016 - August 2018)

For Liang Loo of Grand Island, good environmental sustainability practices were something she grew up with.

She came to the U.S. from Cuba in 2009 with two of her three siblings and her mom, who was a political refugee. “We only owned the clothes we were wearing,” she said. “The Catholic Church person who picked us up told us we were driving to Hastings. All I could see was corn, corn, corn.”

But moving to Hastings also gave Loo her first contact with Central Community College through the English as a second language program at the Hastings Campus. “My first teacher was Susan McDowall. She’s the best ever,” she said.

Loo quit after her second semester, however, to care for her first child, but she returned to CCC in the fall of 2014. “I said that I’m going to get my degree,” she said. “I’m not stopping.”

And she didn’t stop. She earned an associate of arts degree from CCC-Grand Island in May 2017 and is now working toward a bachelor’s degree at Bellevue University.

Even though she has graduated from CCC, she continues to work as a professional intern for the college’s environmental sustainability program. She initially worked with the bike share pilot program in Grand Island and went on to do research on recycling, composting and green buildings and to give presentations on the bike share program to new students and on water to kids at the Nebraska State Fair.

Serving as an environmental sustainability intern was a natural fit for Loo. “Because I came from a developing country, I was used to organic food,” she said. “If we wanted spices or herbs, we planted them. The same was true of vegetables and fruits. Whatever you have, you don’t throw away. You use it until it can’t be used anymore. You don’t leave a room without shutting off the light.”

And even though she is already balancing responsibilities that include husband Keith O’Brien, her three children, Bellevue classes and her internship, she’s still found time to volunteer for CCC’s adult basic education program.

“I had almost no English when I came here, but I’ve had a lot of help along the way to reach my goals,” she said. “Now it’s time to give back.”

Jan Blair (May 2016 - May 2019)

For Jan Blair, education was a desire … and a necessity. 

After being a stay-at-home mom and community volunteer, she decided to venture into the workplace and took a job at the American Red Cross office. She later left emergency management behind and went into retail. 

“At some point, I decided I wanted to be working toward something else,” she said. “Every place I applied to, I had the experience, but they wouldn’t hire someone without an associate’s degree. I thought, ‘Okay, let’s do something about that.’” 

So Blair signed up for business administration classes at Central Community College-Columbus and earned a certificate. She has since switched to business technology and is working toward an associate’s degree. 

It was an email she received when she signed up for classes that led her to become an environmental sustainability professional intern. 

“I was looking for a part-time job at that point so I decided to check it out because of the way the position was described. The being able to plan and do different things really caught my eye,” she said. 

Blair’s main responsibility has been regenerating the campus recycling program. “It was at a standstill,” she said. “Students weren’t thinking about it or they were confused or unaware of how to recycle.” 

Her efforts to educate students about recycling take many forms, whether it’s placing information on the cafeteria tables, setting up an informational booth on campus or working with outside groups for specific events, such as Keep Columbus Beautiful for Earth Day. 

Taking on the internship has been a learning experience for Blair, too. 

"I was recycling prior to this job, but not consciously,” she said. “When it comes to the environment, you have to talk the talk and walk the walk. Doing what’s right means a lifestyle change because living sustainably only works when you’re doing it everywhere.” 

Blair lives in Columbus and has two children and two grandchildren.

Ryan Brentzel (April - July 2017)

Ryan Brentzel’s contribution to Central Community College-Hastings will live on, even if most people don’t realize it’s his work.

That work was part of his job as a professional intern for the college’s environmental sustainability program and involved tilling, planting, watering, weeding and fertilizing the culinary and pollination gardens on campus.

He also worked on the Pawnee corn garden, which is the result of a collaborative project started in 2004 by Ronnie O’Brien, hospitality management and culinary arts instructor at CCC-Hastings, and Deb Echo-Hawk, who is in charge of food programs for the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma. The need for the project has its roots in the 1870s when the Pawnee were forced by the U.S. Army from their home in Nebraska to Oklahoma. The corn they carried with them didn’t thrive in its new environment, and the last remaining kernels were stored safely away decades ago. Now, thanks to 17 gardeners across Nebraska, the corn has been saved from extinction.

Brentzel drove in the posts that defined the Pawnee garden and planted, fertilized and watered the corn that grew in it.

“I learned a lot about caring for a garden and what goes into it,” he said of the three gardens. “That’s the main thing.”

Brentzel’s interest in the environment goes back to a childhood of hunting and fishing. “I’ve lived in the outdoors my entire life,” he said. “It’s a passion I’ve always had.”

His interest in the environment took a back seat, however, when he enlisted in the U.S. Marines after graduating from Northwest High School in Grand Island. During his six years in the service, he was a member of the Marine Honor Guard in Washington, D.C., and an infantryman at Camp LeJune in North Carolina.

It was while he was in North Carolina that he went back to school, enrolling in Asheville-Buncombe Community College in 2014. He moved back to Nebraska in the fall of 2016 and took general education classes at CCC in the spring of 2017.

As an adult, he’s come to realize how important the environment is. That’s why he has since moved on from CCC to the University of Wyoming in Laramie where he’s working toward a bachelor’s degree in energy management and development.

Susan Zierlein (June - November 2016)

Susan Zierlein brings a love of learning and an inquisitive mind to the Central Community College environmental sustainability intern program.

She attends the Columbus Campus where she’s working toward an information technology program certificate, but because she lived in Grand Island before moving to Columbus in 2009, she already had experience with CCC. 

She has an associate’s degree in psychology from CCC-Grand Island and has completed the college’s nursing assistant and medication aide courses. She also has a bachelor’s degree in health and human services from Bellevue University. And she’s studying for a real estate license. 

It was an email invitation to all CCC students that led her to apply for an environmental sustainability internship and to be offered a position as a student Intern. 

“I learn a lot,” she said about her role in researching how to make compositing a reality on the Columbus Campus and to improve the recycling program throughout CCC. “We need to educate people not to throw trash into the recycling bin because then the recycler has to toss the whole thing out.” 

She said her work as an intern has changed some of her own behavior when it comes to sustainability. “I think twice when I go to buy something or when I’m about to throw something away. I try to buy products with less packaging, and I’ve even been known to pick up trash at other people’s homes.” 

Researching sustainability issues is an interesting pastime for Zierlein, but one dominated by an unpleasant truth. “We produce enough waste to fill five planets, and we have only one.” 

Still, she reaches for the positive aspects. “We can teach people what they can do to lessen their impact on the planet, and we can keep working on creative ways to address our environmental problems.” 

Zierlein has two children: Kate Wright, a student at the University of Wisconsin, and Josh Moore, who lives with his dad and attends an Ohio high school.

Jaisa Gutierrez (August 2015 - July 2016)

Let’s just say that Jaisa Gutierrez has an “in” at Central Community College-Columbus.

When an environmental sustainability professional internship opened, her dad sent her the link. That would be Jack Gutierrez, the campus’ athletic director and head coach for women’s softball.

Not that his daughter wasn’t qualified. She earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies from the University of Nebraska-Omaha. She also is a graduate of CCC where she played softball and whose team won Regionals both years. 

“After earning my associate of science degree from CCC in 2010, I transferred to UNO, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” she said. 

She quit school and went to work for Marshall Food Safety, but then decided she wanted to move to Hawaii. It was there that she worked on an organic farm. 

“It was a really nice resort on the Big Island,” she said. “I was able to see the real aspects of sustainability.” 

Gutierrez moved back to Nebraska in 2012 and finished her bachelor’s degree in 2015. 

“I always want to work in sustainability,” Gutierrez said “It’s a tough field but we all need to do our part to save the world for our kids and their kids.” 

Through her internship, she has given a tour to Future Leaders of America to show off the campus’ sustainability practices and to work with the other environmental sustainability interns to organize and promote the Sustainability Leadership Presentation Series and the 3C Conversation. She also gives a presentation for classes in which the teacher wants the students to know about importance of sustainability now and in future. 

“I’m big on conservation and want us to use our resources more wisely,” Gutierrez said. “It amazes me how many Nebraskans don’t know about sustainability and don’t get the big picture because of that. I want to be a part of educating them about why sustainability is important for our future.  

Tresha Zimmerman (September 2014 - May 2016)

Tresha Zimmerman is getting into the nitty gritty of the energy that Central Community College uses.

An accounting major at the Columbus Campus, she is tracking the gas and electric consumption for about the past six years in all the buildings throughout the college. “This way the college can figure out which buildings need remodeling or updated to be more energy efficient,” she said. 

This sizable task is the result of her participation in the sustainability student internship program, something she got involved in not long after returning to school a year ago.

“I was at the point that it was now or never,” she said of enrolling in college. “Between my husband and me, we have 10 children and we’re now on the bottom side with only three at home.”

When she read an email about the internship program, she thought it might work really well with her schedule. “The hours were very flexible, and I could set the hours to work around the kids. It also was a good opportunity.”

She also said that the internship will look good on a resume. “It’s a step in the right direction plus I’m learning a lot.”

In addition to tracking the college’s energy consumption, she has worked with the Sustainability Leadership Presentation Series and the 3C Conversation.

Working so closely with these issues has made Zimmerman focus on sustainability at her home in Clarkson. “When I leave a room, I turn off the light because now I see why it’s important, how that simple thing can save energy. I do recycle but not enough.”

She and her husband, Jeff, also have discussed how they heat their home, even contemplating solar panels and a wind generator. “We burn wood for heat. Is that good or bad? Which is better? Propane or wood?” Her internship has taught her to ask such questions, because making sustainable choices often means tradeoffs.

Once she earns her degree in accounting, she wants to work in an office setting, preferably in the health care field. “Whatever I do in the future, I still want to be able to help people,” she said.

Gach Rom (November 2014 - January 2016)

Central Nebraska is a world away from South Sudan where Gach Rom was born and lived the first four years of his life. 

War was waging between North Sudan and South Sudan, and Rom was living in a refugee camp with his parents, Nyakhan and Thomas, and his three brothers when the Rom family got permission to emigrate. 

Rom’s oldest brother remained in Sudan to continue his education, but the rest of his family left for the U.S. They landed in New York and lived in Nashville before finally moving to Omaha and then eventually to Grand Island. Rom graduated from Omaha Benson High School in 2014 and then enrolled at Central Community College-Grand Island. 

He’s working on completing his general education courses and is an academic transfer major at the moment. He said he’s not sure what he wants to do, but he considers psychology and philosophy to be potential areas of study.

Rom heard about the college’s environmental sustainability program from a friend and from counselor Nick Freelend. “They both teamed up and influenced me go to the 3C Conversation. The rest is history,” he said. 

Attending the 3C Conversation, which is an opportunity for CCC students to learn about and discuss environmental issues and solutions, led Rom into applying for an environmental sustainability professional internship when it opened. 

Through the internship, he has coordinated the college’s Sustainability Leadership Workshops, educated new students about the recycling program and what can and cannot be recycled, helped with the Sustainability Leadership Presentation Series and wrote an article with fellow intern Justin Simmons for Open for Business magazine. 

These activities have given Rom an “opportunity to expand my horizons on things I think I know but actually don’t know very well. I’ve also learned that building relationships within the college and with the community can mean one more step in the right direction when it comes to sustainability.”

He has developed a particular interest in corporate sustainability, specifically environmental sustainability in buildings. Rom said it’s possible that he may return to Africa and build sustainable houses there. 

“Everything is connected, and people who are working to save the planet are my heroes,” Rom said. “Being a part of that effort is a dream come true.”

Justin Simmons (December 2014 - December 2015)

When Justin Simmons became Central Community College’s first environmental sustainability student intern at the Kearney Center in 2015, he spent a lot of time hanging out in the lobby.

“I didn’t have a place to go,” he said. “I worked on my own laptop and talked to students as they passed by.”

Since part of his job was to educate fellow students about the college’s sustainability efforts, the lobby wasn’t a bad place to be. And since another part of his job was to use his technical skills to help promote the environmental sustainability program, a laptop was all he really needed. 

“I just rolled with the punches and had some fun,” he said. 

Simmons was introduced to the environmental sustainability program when he got an email about the 3C Conversation, an opportunity for CCC students to learn about and discuss environmental issues and solutions. “I thought it looked cool,” Simmons said. 

The internship has given him the opportunity to use his technical skills, including redesigning the recycling posters used throughout the college; creating a new logo for the 3C Conversation; and working on several video projects, including one to help educate the public about a beekeeping initiative in Grand Island and another about the sustainability efforts of the college’s Extended Learning Services department. 

“I like working with other people, and video projects are a passion for me,” Simmons said. 

The internship also raised his own awareness about adopting a greener lifestyle and working in the professional world. “I’ve learned a lot about how an office is run and what life will look like after college.” 

It turns out that professional life is coming sooner rather than later. Simmons has been promoted from a part-time to full-time assistant producer at NTV. This means that his internship has ended although he will continue as a student at CCC. 

“I wanted to do something in media,” Simmons said. “We’ll see where things go.” 

Simmons is a 2013 graduate of Kearney High School and is the son of Steve and Peggy Simmons. He joined the environmental sustainability office as a student intern in December 2014 and became a professional intern in January 2015, a position he served in until December 2015.

Sean Herold (March 2014 - April 2015)

It’s safe to say that Sean Herold has presence on campus. No matter where he goes at Central Community College-Hastings, everyone seems to know him.

That’s a positive when it comes to his work as a student intern for the college’s sustainability program. In fact, it was his friendship with Taylor Brandt, a former CCC sustainability intern, who introduced him to the program.

“He filled me in, and I thought it sounded interesting,” Herold said. “I had dabbled in sustainability a bit, but I wasn’t on the front lines, so I looked up stories and cool stuff and thought it was something I could do.”

As a media arts major specializing in photography, Herold brings a certain flair with him. “I’ve worked on posters, logos and brands and done some video,” he said of his contributions to the sustainability program. “I enjoy using graphic design and my know-how to help the campus.” With a laugh, he added, “And getting paid for it.”

In addition to expanding his knowledge of sustainability issues, Herold’s involvement in the intern program has taught him how to negotiate and maneuver through campus politics and to meet more people. “I’m very social,” he admitted.

He also describes himself as someone who is laid back and likes to add a dash of humor to his projects.

After three years at CCC, Herold plans to graduate in May.

What are his plans then? “I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he said.

His future may involve his love of skateboarding. He already is deeply into skateboard photography and also makes skateboards as a hobby.

It may even involve sustainability, if not as a profession then at least in his personal life.

“I have lots of ideas and I haven’t committed to anything yet,” he said.

Herold is a graduate of O’Neill High School and is the son of George Herold of Omaha.

Travis Watchorn (May - August 2014)

Travis Watchorn admits that not long ago he honestly didn't know what the term “sustainability” meant.

He’s since had a bit of an unofficial immersion course as an intern for the Central Community College sustainability internship program.  

Watchorn, an information technology major at the Columbus Campus, enlisted in the U.S. Marines right after graduating from high school in 1994, but an injury led to his discharge in 1996.

He worked as a corrections officer and at a Columbus plant before deciding to go back to school to learn the technical skills that are essential to so many jobs today.

Watchorn found out about the sustainability internship program through the advisor for the campus chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, an international honor society for two-year colleges. He saw it as an opportunity to gain some work experience.

He’s brought his own perspective to the program. “My contribution has been IT research and terminology,” he said. “I've been the go-to person for that.”

He also created charts for sustainability coordinator Minetta Khan to take to meetings and gave presentations for the new student orientations held this summer. He also did a variety of research because departments across the college are seeking ways to improve their sustainability efforts. “They want research to back them up,” Watchorn said.

After he earns his associate of applied science degree, he wants to fix computers. “I like working on stuff and helping people,” he said.

He thinks CCC's sustainability efforts are a good thing and particularly likes the idea of a bike sharing program and a campus garden. He figures that he’ll incorporate some of what he’s learned into his everyday life.

“It’s something people should get involved in,” he said. “What we’re doing now will impact future generations.”

Watchorn is a graduate of Columbus High School and is the son of Mary Ellen Watchorn.

Jade Suganuma (May - July 2014)

Jade Suganuma decided to take classes at Central Community College this summer while she was home in Grand Island. She had just finished her freshman year at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, where she got involved in the school’s Environmental Action League.

It seemed natural, then, that she was interested when her dad – Guy Suganuma, associate dean of skilled and technical sciences and business – told her about CCC’s sustainability internship program.

While serving as an intern, Suganuma worked on various projects with different groups, but was primarily assigned to the Sustainability and Climate Action Plan (SCAP), a college-wide environmental and climate action planning effort.

Her projects included investigating “green” job labeling options with the career and employment services office and producing a video with the extended learning services department. She also worked with several other departments – counseling, assessment and disability services; academic success and tutoring; and athletics – to incorporate sustainability into their areas.

“Sustainability and college should be joined together as one,” Suganuma said. “We’ve come to see sustainability as separate, something else to do. I don’t want people to see it as a burden, but as something that will make their job easier.”

The internship gave Suganuma her first opportunity to work in an office setting. “I’ve learned so many things,” she said, including how to use different approaches to reach different groups and to appreciate other people’s perspectives. “We may still not agree on some things, but it helped me to see issues in a new way.”

Suganuma has always cared about sustainability and wants to work in environmental policy or a related area. “A lot of sustainability jobs don’t exist today that will when I graduate,” she said. “I like talking about the issues and letting people know what’s happening out there, and maybe they’ll think sustainability is cool, too."

Suganuma is a 2013 graduate of Grand Island Senior High School and the daughter of Guy and Deb Suganuma.

Taylor Brandt (April - July 2014)

The chance to use the associate of applied science degree in drafting and design technology he received from Central Community College in December 2013 came immediately for Taylor Brandt.

Through the CCC sustainability internship program, he developed creative and analytical drawings for the occupational therapy assistant students whose plans for a community garden at the Grand Island Campus have expanded so much that it is now being referred to as a learning landscape.

His other projects included researching how the college buys and uses paper, working on education and signage for the campus’ composting pilot project, and helping to write a bike share proposal.

Brandt learned about the internship program through the 3C Discussion, a monthly meeting held during the academic year for students who want to help CCC on its sustainability path. “I went to all of the meetings and when a sustainability intern position opened, I took it,” he said.

His internship responsibilities meant he spent a lot of time in the college administration building where the sustainability office is located. “I enjoyed talking to the staff members,” he said, “and I got to see something most students don’t and that’s how the college actually operates."

As one of the first interns, Brandt also helped to work out some bugs in the program, which he sees as integral to the college’s sustainability efforts. “This is a very new effort,” he said. “The first steps are always awareness and education."

Although he has his AAS degree, Brandt is enrolled at the Hastings Campus this year to take general education courses and possibly earn a diploma in structural steel. His future plans include transferring to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and earning a bachelor’s degree in commercial architecture or interior design.

Brandt is a 2009 graduate of Grand Island Senior High School and is the son of Jerry and Ruth Brandt.

Alex Contino (March - May 2014)

Alex Contino loves seeing a baby idea grow into a reality.

It’s even more rewarding when he’s part of the process.

His efforts in the Central Community College sustainability internship program helped launch a brand new composting pilot project at the Grand Island Campus.

Contino first heard of the internship program when the campus chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, an international honor society for two-year colleges, worked on a team project on sustainability leadership.

After consulting with sustainability coordinator Minetta Khan, he decided to sign on as a student intern. It was then that he and fellow sustainability co-worker Marshall Fisher began working with Chartwells (the college’s food service provider) and other key people to set up composting on the campus.

The project fit well with several of Contino’s core beliefs: serving as a role model, leading by example, being efficient and not wasting resources.

“I enjoyed going from a baby idea – composting – to really doing it,” Contino said. “It’s important to be aware of what you’re using and what you’re throwing away, to use resources responsibly.”

His internship taught him other valuable skills, including how to maneuver inside a company, deal with people and work with peers. He also believes his sustainability experience will be advantageous in future job interviews. “Anyone who understands efficiency will have the upper hand,” he said.

The composting project is now underway at the Grand Island Campus, but Contino will have to follow its progress from a distance. He earned an associate of science degree from CCC in May and has moved to Lincoln to attend the University of Nebraska Medical Center. His goal is to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing and then a master’s degree in nursing anesthesiology.

He and his wife, Danae, have a 22-month-old daughter, Sophia, and are expecting a boy in September.


Benjamin Newton
Environmental Sustainability Director