July 2020 Central Connection

July 2, 2020

Karr takes a look back at his CCC career

By Joni Ransom
Chief of Staff

For nine years, Travis Karr has been the face of veteran services at Central Community College and the energy behind expanding and streamlining services for CCC’s student veterans.

Travis Karr stands in front of the Veterans and Military
Resources Center at Central Community College-Grand
Island on his last day as veterans and military services
director. (Photo by Joni Ransom)

CCC will now have to carry on without him since Karr has left to become a claims specialist at the Social Security Administration.

“I’m really excited about this new career,” he said on his last day at CCC. “One part of my job is connecting people with their benefits, something they can find confusing and complicated. I enjoy being the person who will help.”

If he has the right skills and communication style for his new job, it’s probably thanks to his work as CCC’s veterans and military services director.

The position was created after the college received a $393,993 Central to Veteran Student Success grant from the U.S. Department of Education in 2010. The goal was to increase the enrollment, retention and graduation of veterans, military service members and their families by establishing Veterans and Military Resource Centers (VMRC) where they could access student services such as campus tours, orientation sessions, tutoring and mentoring.

When Karr walked into CCC-Grand Island on Jan. 2, 2011 as a full-time employee, he brought his experience as a former student with him.

He enrolled at CCC in 2004 after serving in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1999 through 2003. He was stationed in Japan, Korea and Australia; did a tour in Iraq; and attained the rank of sergeant.

Stepping onto the Grand Island campus took him into a whole different world. “There were a ton of students and I was overwhelmed,” he said.

Help in navigating the higher education waters came in the form of his younger sister, who was in his macroeconomics class. He said that without her support, he may have quit school. Instead, he went on to earn his associate of applied science degree in business administration and a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s degree in management with an emphasis in executive coaching from Bellevue University.

Karr also gave credit to the VA-certified officials at CCC. “They were amazing and doing the best they could with limited time and resources,” he said, adding that they remain to this day an essential key to helping student veterans stay in school. “These officials understand the GI bill, its application and its restrictions.”

Gaining such understanding of CCC’s inner workings was one of Karr’s objectives when he was establishing the VMRCs. His second objective was to understand the perspective of incoming student veterans.

“As with other special populations, we put student veterans in a group, but they are individuals,” Karr said.

Student veterans may have entered military service because it’s a family tradition or they didn’t have the money to attend college or they wanted a new opportunity. They may have left the military voluntarily or they may have been forced out because of an injury or budget cuts.

The centers provide these students with a place to get started and then succeed. In addition to on-campus services, the VMRC may help them make appointments with the VA hospital system or connect them with nonprofit organizations to meet other needs such as marriage counseling, day care or finding an apartment.

“So often we see them the first week of classes, standing there, feeling lost, and finding everything stressful,” Karr said. “The centers are a hub where we introduce them to their peers and teach them how to make the most of their benefits.”

Since 2011, the VMRC has held Veterans Day celebrations, started Student Veterans of America chapters and organized or participated in such activities as the Salute to Women Warriors banquet, Biker Ball and the Nebraska State Fair’s “LZ” (Landing Zone).

Thanks to its dedication to veterans, CCC was invited to participate in the Veterans Integration to Academic Leadership (VITAL) pilot program in 2014, which provided an on-campus VA social worker. CCC has been named multiple times as a Best for Vets college and a Military-Friendly School and was a Bellwether Award winner in 2016. Its approach to veterans services has been emulated by other colleges and universities.

More importantly, in the years since the VMRCs were established, the graduation rate for veterans has increased from 21 percent to 55 percent.

Karr testified to the Unicameral about a proposed law to charge veterans in-state tuition, no matter what their permanent address may be. “The Unicameral was ahead of the curve,” he said, “and passed the law a year before the federal law.”

He was an adjunct instructor at the Hastings Campus for three years, teaching college foundations and career exploration. He also filled in for instructors on topics such as PTSD and traumatic brain injuries. In 2017, he received the John and Suanne Roueche Excellence Award for outstanding contributions and leadership.

His greatest pride as he moves on to new challenges? “When our students graduate, especially the ones who just showed up because it was another resource to check out,” he said. “With a little encouragement, they realize they can do whatever they put their mind to.”

Campus plays role in COVID response

By Scott Miller
Senior Director of College Communications

The plastic injection molding program at Central Community College helped meet the demand for personal protective equipment during the COVID pandemic. 

Ben Wilshusen, director of plastic injection molding
at Central Community College-Columbus, displays
some of the headgear molds. (Photo by Scott Miller)

In particular, there was a great need for headgear pieces for face shields to be produced at a much higher rate than 3D printing. Utilizing on-campus plastic injection molding machines, program director Ben Wilshusen was able to produce 550 pieces of headgear in the same time it took to produce one on a 3D printer.

CCC partnered locally with Jimko Machine for the project as well as Majors Plastics of Omaha. Wilshusen produced the headgear pieces on the Toyo Si-55-6 and the Arburg Allrounder 370 E golden Electric. Both machines were donated on consignment from the manufacturers. The material used to make the headgear pieces was HIPS Regrind, a high-impact polystyrene, which was donated by Majors Plastics. An aluminum MUD mold insert was utilized with the cavity machined by Jimko Machine. The waterline and ejector system was machined on campus by advanced manufacturing design technology coordinator Darin Skipton.

Once the headgear pieces were created, 100 were boxed along with shields, elastic bands and assembly instructions. CCC staffers and even a couple of student-athletes helped pack the boxes, which were then shipped to various health departments in Nebraska. CCC has donated 11,500 completed face shields for use throughout Nebraska and 800 to Columbus Community Hospital.

With the assistance of a National Science Foundation grant, CCC’s plastic injection molding program is in development and scheduled to launch in fall 2021.

News briefs

Funds help students during COVID-19

Central Community College has awarded $832,750 to 996 students for COVID-related expenses as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economics Securities Act (CARES Act).

The funds are part of the nearly $1.9 million CCC received from the U.S. Department of Education, half of which ($945,227) must go toward emergency cash grants for students impacted by the coronavirus.

The college used the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) to identify students eligible to participate in programs under Section 484 in Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965 and therefore also eligible to receive CARES Act emergency financial aid grants.

Since the funds became available on April 21, 1,793 students have completed the application. These applications were reviewed weekly by a committee of seven college employees.

During the spring semester, the college contacted 5,880 students who were registered on March 9 or later at their CCC e-mail addresses. Awards were based on the student’s enrollment status: full-time, $1,000; three-quarter-time, $750; half-time, $500; and less than half-time, $250. Of the 1,304 students who completed the application, 673 were eligible and received a total of $535,750 grants.

During the summer session, CCC contacted 1,256 students who were registered for any summer course between May 26 and June 4. The only change in award amounts was that students who received the $1,000 max during the spring semester were only eligible for an additional $500 for the summer term. Of the 489 students who applied, 298 were eligible and received grants for a total of $115,750.

Unexpended funds will be available to eligible students enrolled in the July summer session or the fall semester.

Adult Education receives laptops

The Central Community College Adult Education Program has received 72 laptops from community partners for use by adult education students.

The Community and Family Partnership of Colfax and Platte counties gave 18 laptops to Schuyler Cargill and 45 to Columbus. The Buffalo County Community Partners, Kearney Foundation and Kearney Works gave nine laptops to Kearney.

“This great news came from our three coordinators, Jolene Hake at Schuyler Cargill, Mary Wiegand in Columbus and Donna Martin in Kearney,” said Adult Education Director Ann Chambers. “We’re all thankful for the generosity of our local community organizations because these laptops will help our students reach their educational goals.”

Grant to fund Bike Share program

Central Community College has been awarded a grant to fund a Bike Share program at its Hastings Campus.

The grant is courtesy of Second Nature, a Boston-based nongovernmental organization which tackles climate change with and through higher education. Ten colleges and universities were awarded grants through the Second Nature Climate Solutions Acceleration Fund. CCC was the only community college to receive the grant.

The funds will be used to install a new four-Bike Share solar-powered Bluetooth docking station at CCC-Hastings. Additionally, it will support the upgrade of existing docking stations from lithium battery-powered keypads to solar-powered Bluetooth docking stations.

In tribute

Elaine Engel

Former Columbus resident Elaine Engel, 92, died June 23 in Nebraska City.

A private family service was scheduled for July 2 with a public graveside service at Roselawn Memorial Cemetery in Columbus.

She was born Aug. 29, 1927, in Platte County to Gottfried and Elise W. (Wurdeman) Marty. She graduated from Kramer High School, now known as Columbus Senior High School, in 1945.

She married Edward Donald Engel on Aug. 18, 1946, at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Columbus. They lived on a farm until 1956 when they moved into Columbus.

She worked at J.C. Penny for several years before joining the Central Community College-Columbus staff in 1977 to fill the newly created position of records clerk. She retired in 1990.

She was a member of Immanuel Lutheran Church.

Survivors include two sons, eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. She was preceded in death by her parents, her husband, a daughter, a son, her brother, three sisters and a granddaughter.

Gas Haney Funeral Home was in charge of arrangements. Memorials are suggested to Immanuel Lutheran Church, Lutheran Hour Ministries or the family’s choice.

Mary Lukow

Mary A. Lukow, 92, of Hastings died June 9 at Mary Lanning Healthcare in Hastings.

Services were June 15 at Zion Wanda Lutheran Church near Juniata with burial in Parkview Cemetery in Hastings.

She was born September 28, 1927, to Henry and Edna (Siekmann) Sautter on the family farm near Scotia.

She graduated from York High School in 1945 and graduated as a registered nurse from the Bryan Memorial Hospital School of Nursing in Lincoln.

Her nursing career included working at Bryan Memorial Hospital in Lincoln; Mary Lanning Hospital, the office of Dr. Herbert F. Anderson and the Hastings Regional Center in Hastings; Hadley Memorial Hospital in Hays, Kan.

In 1972 and 1973, she was employed as a human resources instructor at Central Community College-Hastings.

She returned to the Hastings Regional Center in 1986 as an instructor. She retired in 1994.

On June 4, 1949, she married Gilbert Mousel of Juniata. He died in 1968 in a traffic accident, On June 2, 1973, she married Clayton Lukow.

She was a past member of the District, Nebraska and American nurses associations; past president and member of the Juniata School Board and the Juniata American Legion Auxiliary; and a member and church organist of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Holstein.

Survivors include seven children, 19 grandchildren and a growing number of great-grandchildren. She was preceded in death by her two husbands, parents, four brothers, sister and two grandchildren.

Apfel Funeral Home in Kenesaw was in charge of arrangements. Memorials may be given to the family.

Employee news

Columbus Campus

John Ritzdorf, men’s basketball coach, has been named to the 2020 Under Armour 30-Under-30 Team, representing 30 of the most outstanding men’s college basketball coaches under the age of 30.

The National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) assembled the team based on nominations from its membership, which totals nearly 5,000 members.

Ritzdorf is the only community college coach and only one of five head coaches on the squad. In 2019-20, he led CCC to a 20-11 record, a Region IX title and an appearance in the NJCAA Division II Basketball North Plains District Championship.

Following his first year leading CCC men’s basketball, Ritzdorf was named Region IX Coach of the Year and Nebraska Community College Athletic Conference Coach of the Year.

Christopher Schwartz has joined the staff as a chemistry instructor.

Athletic Director Mary Young has been named vice chair of the NJCAA Championship Events Committee for 2020-21.

The chairs of the 37 NJCAA sports committees serve as a direct contact between the committee and the NJCAA national office staff while leading their committee throughout the year.  

Young also is a NJCAA Board of Regents member and NJCAA Region 9 Women’s Director. 

Grand Island Campus

Travis Karr has resigned from the college-wide position of veteran and military services director.