August 2023 Central Connection

August 1, 2023

The adult groundbreakers for the Pirnie Inclusive Playground in Grand Island included (left to right) Sue and Tom Pirnie; Ryan and Katie Soto, community campaign co-chairs; Bryan Klinginsmith, Central Community College occupational therapy assistant graduate; and Julie and Dr. Joe Vavricek, community campaign co-chairs. Not pictured: Brian Dunagan, community co-chair. (Photo by Austin Remm)

Digging in

By Scott Miller
Senior Director of College Communications

Groundbreaking ceremonies were held on July 24 for the Pirnie Inclusive Playground at Ryder Park in Grand Island. The 27,000-square-foot, $2.8 million facility will offer experiences for three stages of development, including spaces designed specifically for children ages 2-5, 5-11, and 12 and older.

The project began as a class assignment in Central Community College-Grand Island’s occupational therapy assistant (OTA) program in early 2021. Students were challenged to create a project in the community that would make a lasting impression throughout the years to help others. With help from OTA program director Dr. Callie Watson, six students envisioned an inclusive playground and took their idea to several community organizations, including the City of Grand Island, and received positive encouragement. From there, the CCC Foundation took over fundraising operations and just over two years later, 237 donors raised the $1.6 million. Additionally, the City of Grand Island committed $1.25 million in infrastructure upgrades.

“We always had big hopes and dreams that it would come to this one day and here we are,” said Bryan Klinginsmith, one of the six students. “What’s really amazing is what started out as an idea in our class is becoming a reality because of this community, and because of Central Community College standing behind its students.”

Roger Steele, Grand Island mayor, opened the program by calling it a proud day for Grand Island. Steele mentioned Del Ryder, a prominent citizen of Grand Island for whom Ryder Park is named. He said Ryder would be appreciative of the community partnerships that made the Pirnie Inclusive Playground possible. “This playground represents Grand Island’s longstanding tradition of people working together to make things happen,” Steele said.

Traci Skalberg, executive director of the Central Community College Foundation, recognized the 237 donors who raised the money to make the park a reality. “There were reasons to not pursue, to not persist, to say ‘no.’ They said ‘yes.’” Skalberg said. “A lot of people had to look fear in the face and say ‘yes.’ It would have been a lot easier to say ‘no.’” Skalberg also thanked the students for persisting even after receiving their grade for the project, as well as the CCC faculty and administration for encouraging the students and leveraging partnerships to get the students in front of the right audiences.

Dr. Joe Vavricek, co-chair of the project and founder of the Fighter Jett Foundation, expressed gratitude for being asked to take part in the endeavor. Fighter Jett is named in memory of his son, who died at age two following a severe brain injury. Before the injury, Vavricek said he looked forward to his son playing baseball at Ryder Park, and after the injury, he wasn’t sure what opportunities his son would have for play. “Now, this will be a place where his sisters can form new friends, and he can still impact the lives of so many.”

The park is expected to be completed in October.

Environmental sustainability interns Kaylee Gibson, Jakob Vohnout Larchickand and Madison Hajek spend a hot July day at Central Community College-Hastings stuffing plastic bags into plastic bottles to make eco bricks. The bricks will be used to make a kids playhouse for the Nebraska State Fair. (Photo by Joni Ransom)

State fair to feature projects

Central Community College’s environmental sustainability students will once again have projects featured at this year’s Nebraska State Fair.

Environmental Sustainability Director Ben Newton said the following projects can be seen in the Kramer’s Sustainability Pavilion:

  • DIY plant journals made from recycled materials and personalized with pressed plants and dried flowers.
  • A small kids playhouse made from eco bricks (plastic bottles stuffed with plastic bags).
  • A bottlecap windmill mural for teaching wind technology.
  • Wood medallions made from tree debris.
  • Origami flowers made from recycled paper.
  • An aquaponic moss lawn for raising fish and plants without soil.
  • Sustainable pigments for paint-making made from flower petals and other natural materials.
  • An herbal bug spray made with herbal tea mixed with isopropyl alcohol and vinegar.
  • Newton said CCC’s environmental sustainability staff will have interactive projects at Nebraska’s largest classroom on Aug. 25, 29 and 30. The event involves 90 schools and almost 3,000 elementary school students.

“Also new this year is Fair-Tastic Friday on Sept. 1,” Newton said. “Central Community College student clubs will participate in a sensory friendly activities area where they’ll help individuals of any age with differing abilities stuff a plush made out of recycled materials.”

The Nebraska State Fair will be held Aug. 25 through Sept. 4 at Fonner Park in Grand Island.

Students place at nationals

A Central Community College-Hastings students and five high school students who have taken credit classes from CCC placed in the top 10 of the 59th annual National Leadership and Skills Conference June 19-23 in Atlanta.

They were among 280 SkillsUSA members from Nebraska who competed in the event. More than 6,000 middle school, high school and postsecondary students participated in 110 hands-on competitions.

Each national contestant was a state gold medalist.

Adam Reinhard, the CCC-Hastings student, took seventh place in diesel equipment technology. CCC instructors and advisers Landon Hunt and Raece Paulsen also attended the conference.

The high school students who placed were Fisher Cyza and Blake Ramaekers, Columbus High School, first place in mechatronics; Richard Mateo, Career Pathways Institute-Grand Island, fifth place in sheetmetal; Jackson Graves, Hastings High School, eighth place in CNC Programming; and Tristan Kamm, Columbus High School, 10th place in motorcycle service technology.

The three Columbus students have taken mechatronics courses. The CPI student has taken construction technology courses. The Hastings student has taken 12 credits of advanced manufacturing and design technology as well as an automotive technology class. Several of them also have completed general education credits.

Long-time employee to begin retirement

Mary Speicher of Columbus will retire in August as an administrative assistant in the community and workforce education office at Central Community College-Columbus.

She started work at CCC in August 1979 in the same position she now holds, although much has changed in the intervening years. For example, she worked on a typewriter and kept records by hand until computers took over. CCC’s first learning centers opened the same year she started, and she became manager of the Columbus Campus’ off-campus learning center. Today, her main job is coordinating the CPR and first aid classes for the campus’ nine-county area. About 2,000 people complete this training every year.

Speicher said she feels fortunate that she landed in the CWE office and had as her supervisors Ron Kluck, who is now retired, and Karin Rieger, associate dean of community and workforce education.

Prior to joining the CCC staff, she worked as a bank teller at First National Bank in Columbus.

Speicher is a graduate of Columbus High School who later earned an associate of applied science degree in office technology from CCC. She is an active member of St. Isidore’s Catholic Church in Columbus and has served on many committees at the Columbus Campus, with the support staff and wellness committees holding a special place in her heart. In 2002, she was named the CCC-Columbus Employee of the Year.

She and her husband, Gary, have three children and six grandchildren. They plan to travel and spend a lot of time with their family, especially their grandkids.

Nuts and bolts

Shane Schmidt, automotive instructor at Lexington High School and Carly Walker, transportation lab assistant at Central Community College-Hastings, work on a car in the Introduction to Pro-Cut On-Car Brake Lathe workshop. The June 14 workshop was part of CCC’s annual summer development training for high school professionals. This year’s 10 workshops drew 72 participants from 30 different schools located inside and outside of the college’s service area. (Photo by Jamey Peterson-Jones)

Employee news

Administrative Office

Cindy Lothrop has resigned as hiring manager.

Kelsey Meharg has shifted from institutional research coordinator to Grand Island enrollment technology strategies director.

College Foundation

Laura Sheppard has joined the staff as a foundation coordinator.

Columbus Campus

Jodi Chase has shifted from registration and assessment technician to community and workforce education administrative assistant.

New employees include Susan Dudley, residence life and student engagement director, and Gaspard Mucundanyi, information technology systems instructor.

Dave Cassidy, math and physics instructor, and Josh York, associate dean of students, have resigned.

Grand Island Campus

New employees include James Davis, criminal justice instructor; Aimee Steinhardt-Duysen, Entrepreneurship Center director; and Matthew Strampher, college-wide quality technology instructor.

Shifting positions are Catherine Bergin, from Academic Success Center coordinator to institutional research coordinator in the Administrative Office, and Erin Lesiak, from admissions director to psychology instructor.

Hastings Campus

Shannon James has resigned as an information technology services specialist.

Joining the staff are Connie Hultine, criminal justice instructor; Mark Niemeyer, building control operator; Andrew Rayburn, truck driver trainer; and Sara Stroman, health programming director.

Shifting positions are Brian Davis, from advanced manufacturing instructor to drafting and design technology instructor; Gabrielle Easter, from part-time to full-time custodian; and Erika Wolfe, from Academic Success Center director to associate dean of student success and enrollment management.

Kearney Center

Samuel Matticks has joined the staff as an auto instructor.