December 2023-January 2024 Central Connection

December 1, 2023

CCC selected to compete for Aspen Prize

The Aspen Institute has named Central Community College as one of the 150 institutions eligible to compete for the $1 million Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence.

The institutions selected for this honor stand out among more than 1,000 community colleges nationwide as having high and improving levels of student success as well as equitable outcomes for Black and Hispanic students and those from lower-income backgrounds.

Being recognized “demonstrates our commitment to student success, especially in terms of transfer, completion of an award, and equity for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds,” said CCC President Dr. Matt Gotschall.

The 150 eligible colleges have been invited to submit student success data and narratives about strategies to achieve better and more equitable student outcomes as the next step in a review process that culminates in the naming of the Aspen Prize winner in 2025. The eligible colleges are located in urban, rural, and suburban areas in 30 states with student populations ranging from 169 to 49,619.

“The best community colleges are continuing to focus on advancing the core mission: making sure as many students as possible graduate with credentials that lead to fulfilling careers and reflect the development of diverse talent that communities, states, and our nation need,” said Josh Wyner, executive director of the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program.

Student outcomes vary substantially among community colleges. Aspen measures those variances using multiple data sources and honors colleges with outstanding achievement in six areas: teaching and learning, certificate and degree completion, transfer and bachelor’s attainment, workforce success, equitable access to the college, and equitable outcomes for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds.

Eligibility for the prize is based on publicly available data. Colleges must show strong, improving and equitable student outcomes in first-to-second year retention, credentials awarded, and completion and transfer rates. Nationwide, about 15 percent of community colleges have been invited to apply.

The next steps in the process include:

April 2024: Announcement of 25 semifinalists, selected based on assessments of extensive data and strategy documents by the prize selection panel, a group of 16 experts in community colleges, higher education and workforce training, and interviews with institutional leadership teams.

June 2024: Announcement of 10 finalists, selected by the prize selection panel.

Fall 2024:  Site visits to the 10 finalists, during which the Aspen Institute and partners will collect additional information, including employment and earnings data and insights about promising practices.

January 2025: Prize award decisions made by independent prize jury at full-day meeting.

Spring 2025:  Announcement of the Aspen Prize winner and celebration of the 10 finalists in Washington D.C.

Madrigal Feast aims for festivity, frivolity

By Joni Ransom
Chief of Staff

Sometimes brainstorming results in an idea that requires jumping in wholeheartedly without fear.

This is what happened when the fine arts instructors at Central Community College-Columbus sat down as a group to discuss ways to be more collaborative, to have more interdepartmental interaction.

You see, they had just come off a successful run with the musical, “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” in April and were eager to repeat the teamwork of that effort.

Everyone was a little aghast, though, when theater instructor Stephanie Tschetter proposed a madrigal.


A madrigal feast, to be specific, featuring Renaissance-inspired food, music and entertainment.

After the initial shock wore off, everyone took a deep breath and decided to do it.

One of the first decisions was to find a place with good acoustics. That turned out to be the Columbus Innovation Center, which will provide a beautiful space for the Madrigal Feast during its Dec. 8-10 run.

The planners would come to depend on meetings and lists. When Whitney Hank was hired as fine arts coordinator, they relied on her to keep everybody and everything on track. They had to deal with table settings, decorations, marketing and promotion, service crew, the website and the box office and a hundred other details.

Because it’s a madrigal, some of the issues were a bit unusual. How do you make a boar’s head?  Where can you find a medieval wagon? “What is enough ice for 100 people and where do you find the space to store it?” asked visual arts instructor Chadric Harms.

The fine arts department learned to tackle whatever needed to be tackled. They discovered students weren’t the only ones eager to help. CCC-Columbus employees volunteered, local businesses stepped up, and “we’ve had full administrative support,” Tschetter said.

“The whole college is excited and wants to know how they can help,” Hank said.

The madrigal will give students a chance to perform in a larger space than the Fine Arts Theater.

“As much as I love our theater, the acoustics in the Innovation Center are much more ‘live,’ which is a real treat for choirs,” said vocal music instructor Jeff Kitson. “Performing in a different genre is a learning experience. In music, the more genres you can be familiar with, the better. It gives our students a broader base of learning.”

Music from this time period isn’t prevalent in the band world, and the repertoire of CCC’s instrumental groups ranges from the late 19th century to current composers, so it’s “been enriching to work on music of the Renaissance that has been arranged for concert band,” said instrumental music instructor Krista Vazquez Connelly.

Also, her percussionists will play a large hand-held drum called an Irish Bodhrán. “I purchased this for this event as it evokes the Medieval/Renaissance era for European percussion instruments,” she said.

The theater students will find themselves in a play with much more audience participation. “The immersive nature of the event is an enjoyable way to get involved,” Tschetter said.

What can audiences expect? As the king’s and queen’s guests, they’ll enjoy a three-course meal, the antics of traveling actors putting on a show, seasonal music and a few surprises along the way.

“We knew students would like this event,” Kitson said. “They’ve really taken to it and are genuinely excited to perform and show what they’ve learned about these songs and traditions.”

Pictured: Brianne Steager of Brainard and Ayanna Barragán of Columbus are in the foreground. Lurking in the doorway are (top to bottom) Jakob MacCann of Fairfield; Bailey Rhynalds of North Bend and Aries Deitrick of Doniphan.

Winter commencement set for Dec. 15

Central Community College will honor all its December graduate candidates during winter commencement at 2 p.m. on Dec. 15 in the Raider Fieldhouse at the Columbus Campus.

The keynote speaker will be Kellie Pickett, vice president for college access and success at the Susan T. Buffett Foundation and board member of the National Scholarship Providers Association.

She is a native Nebraskan who received her bachelor’s degree in Spanish from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind.; a master’s degree in college student personnel from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio; and a doctorate in educational studies from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Pickett has dedicated her career to working with college students and supporting them as they strive to reach their educational goals.

Over the past 20 years, she has worked at such higher education institutions as Duke University, Georgia Southern University and the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO). She held various roles in such areas as admissions, orientation, learning communities, and leadership and civic engagement. At UNO, she served as director of the Thompson Learning Community where she worked with and taught students who received the Susan T. Buffett Scholarship. She also was an adjunct faculty member in UNO’s College of Education, teaching graduate students interested in working in student services on college campuses.

In her current role, Pickett works with people and communities across the state to ensure Nebraskans have clear pathways into higher education as well as the resources and support they need to reach their college goals.

Ireland ‘foodie’ tour

Kimberly Milovac, a hospitality management and culinary arts instructor at Central Community College-Hastings learns how to shuck oysters during a professional development trip to Ireland. The 10-day Institute of Study Abroad Ireland trip at the end of October brought together 24 community college professionals from across the U.S. to learn about the country’s food, hospitality approaches, tourism and sustainability practices and to explore possible opportunities for future collaboration. While there, Milovac also tried surfing for the first time.

News briefs

CCC named top two-year school for vets

Central Community College is the top two-year school in the U.S. for veterans, according to the Military Times Best for Vets: College Rankings for 2023. The list is comprised of both four-year universities and two-year colleges nationwide and focuses on each institution’s efforts to support the military community. CCC placed 27th nationally among all institutions and fourth in the central region.

CCC’s Veterans and Military Resource Centers (VMRC) are located at the Columbus, Grand Island and Hastings campuses and Kearney Center. Each VMRC assists veterans and their family members with benefits, academic advising, referrals and support with disability services, and mental health resources. A tuition waiver program provides 100-percent tuition for spouses and children of eligible veterans paid by the college, and the Central Community College Foundation provides veteran-specific scholarships.

Program receives $50,000 Haas grant

The advanced manufacturing design technology (AMDT) program at Central Community College-Hastings has received a $50,000 grant from the Gene Haas Foundation. The funds will support student scholarships and other program needs.

Since 2015, the AMDT program at the Hastings Campus has received annual scholarship grants from the Gene Haas Foundation totaling $273,000. In recent years, CCC-Hastings was also awarded a $250,000 naming rights grant, designating it as a Gene Haas Advanced Manufacturing Center of Excellence.

Travel agent certification class planned

Central Community College-Grand Island will offer a TRIPKIT Travel Agent Certification class in 2024.

It will be taught by certified travel agent Wendy Jones. She will use TRIPKIT curriculum to train students on the current travel and tourism software used within the industry.

The year-long program will consist of two 15-week classes during the first semester and one 15-week class and a travel practicum with Mystique Travel during the second semester.

Students will take the TAP test on Dec. 16, 2024, for national certification.

The cost is $1,200, which includes books and the TAP test. Students must bring their own laptop to use the web-based software.

Interested individuals can find detailed information at

Event puts attendees in immigrants’ shoes

Central Community College was well represented at the Immigrant Story Walk Nov. 9 at Boulder Flatts in Grand Island.

For 20 years, the Immigrant Story Walk has provided an immersive diversity, equity and inclusionary experience.

Participants had the opportunity to explore America’s complex immigration system and learn about its impact on newcomers.

The event included a citizenship and immigration simulation that allowed attendees to step onto the complex and difficult path to citizenship. They explored how the immigration system works and why  barriers and workforce shortages in America are related to this system. They also learned about how outside factors can prevent immigrants from achieving the American Dream.

Twenty people attended from CCC. Kneeling and crouching in front are Ashley Weets, associate dean of students, Erika Wolfe, associate dean of student success and enrollment management, Emily Klimek, graphic design specialist; and Maria Flores, enrollment specialist.

Arranged behind them from left to right are Susan Dudley, resident life and student engagement director; Janel Walton, dean of enrollment management; Kelsey Meharg, enrollment technology strategies director; Becca Dobry, area director of financial aid services; Maria Lopez, recruiting director; Pennie Morgan, human resources senior director; Regina Somer, admissions director; Denise Kingery, nursing admissions adviser; Tracy Watts, instructional design consultant; Susan McDowall, English instructor; Abie Ott, educational planning director; Ricardo Ramirez, financial aid technician; Dani Schwinn, technology integration specialist; Barb Larson, college registrar and special projects director; and Carrielynn Peace, registration technician and welcome desk.

Also attending but not pictured was Jamie Dennis, admissions technician.

Employees mark special anniversaries

Congratulations to the full-time and part-time Central Community College employees who completed special anniversaries in 2023.

They were:

Administrative Office

Twenty-five years: Barb Larson, college registrar and special projects director.

Twenty years: Beth Meyer, payroll manager.

Fifteen years: Sherry Peters, senior buyer, and Glenn Sparks, technology services director.

Ten years: Pennie Morgan, human resources senior director; Ron Golka, financial operations manager; and Abie Ott, educational planning director.

Five years: Emily Klimek, graphic design specialist, and Mike Gapp, assistant environmental health and safety specialist.

CCC Foundation

Ten years: Cheri Beda, alumni director.

Five years: Sharon Liske, foundation treasurer.

Columbus Campus

Twenty-five years: Willie Piitz, student accounts director.

Twenty years: Jerry Becker, history instructor, and Juan Lara, Spanish instructor.

Fifteen years: Gary Becher, custodian; Ryan Frauendorfer, electrical maintenance technician; and Kim Ostdiek, English instructor.

Ten years: Lisa Brestel, early childhood education instructor, and Colleen Vetick, instructional technology specialist.

Five years: Kim Severyn, custodian, and Stephanie Tschetter, theater and speech instructor.

Grand Island Campus

Forty years: Kathy Woitaszewski, mathematics instructor.

Thirty-five years: Hylee Horner, financial aid director.

Twenty-five years: Susan Hooker, associate dean of community and workforce education.

Fifteen years: Carol Hipke Muske, medical assisting instructor; Maria Lopez, recruiting coordinator; and Nancy Straatmann, student accounts director.

Ten years: Becky Fausett, adult education director; Tami Jones, nursing simulation coordinator; Erin Lesiak, psychology instructor; Barbara Marsh, health information management services instructor; Jamey Peterson-Jones, early college director; Mike Snell, welding instructor; and Callie Watson, occupational therapy assistant program director.

Five years: Michael David, criminal justice program director; Paige Denman, human services instructor; Kerri Dey, associate dean of health sciences and pharmacy technician program director; Corey Hatt, math readiness project director; Karen Smallwood, pharmacy technician instructor; Ulises Valencia-Segura, enrollment specialist; Jennifer Walker, instructional technology specialist; and Marie White, nursing instructor.

Hastings Campus

Twenty years: Fred Kuta, auto body technology instructor; and Dale Long, heating, air conditioning and refrigeration instructor.

Fifteen years: Mary Dixon, English instructor; Lu Ann Fitzgerald, student housing administrative assistant; Jeff Kroeker, welding instructor; and Julie Mullen, student success coach program director.

Ten years: Peggy Chessmore, instructional technology specialist; Kim Danehey-Nibbe, dental hygiene clinic assistant; Dave Hassett, welding technology instructor; Carol Kucera, campus president executive assistant; Travis Songster, building maintenance technician; and Mike Spicknall, custodian.

Five years: Jenni Bauer, nursing assistant and medication aide trainer; Daniel Deffenbaugh, associate dean of academic education; Raece Paulsen, diesel technology instructor; Theresa Powell, accounting instructor; Gabby Prickett, digital printing technician; Regina Somer, admissions director; and Corey VomWeg, library resource center assistant.

Holdrege Center

Five years: Elena Olson King, learning center manager.

Kearney Center

Twenty-five years: Kelly Christensen, vice president of community and workforce education.

Ten years: Ingrid Orsted, mathematics instructor.

Five years: Catrina Gray, apprenticeship director.

Ord Learning Center

Ten years: Crystal Ramm, community and workforce education regional director

Five years: Janet Eppenbach, community education coordinator.

Part-time employees

Thirty-five years: Karen Mroczek, Columbus.

Thirty years: Sharon Smith, Columbus.

Twenty years: Katia Valencia, Grand Island.

Fifteen years: Jeanne Cook, Grand Island.

Ten years: James Hansen, Adam Lassen, Dann Matchett and Spring Wendt, Columbus; Stacy Karr and Henry Roy, Grand Island; and Lori Fong, Lexington.

Five years: Patricia Birch, Mathew Boerkircher, Shirley Enquist, Keith Hale, Martha Magee, Kirby Mousel, Thomas Salyard, Staci Shonka, Gail Slade, Jill Wielgus, Fred Wigington and Jessica Wiig, Columbus; Kathleen Behring, Sandra Burris, Sarah Hinrichs, Joyce Meinecke, Diane Reeves and Denell Rhinehart, Grand Island; Jamey Boelhower, Moses Dogbevia, Dee Janssen, Rachelle Johnson, Jillian Manzer and Linda Wiltrout, Hastings; Jamie Partridge, Holdrege; Sonja Jackson, Anita Lorentzen and Donna Martin, Kearney; and Dalila Earl and Ruth Jorgensen, Lexington.

In tribute: John Putnam

John Putnam, 86, of Columbus died Nov. 16 in Columbus.

Services were Nov. 22 at St. Isidore Church with burial in St. Bonaventure Cemetery.

He was born on Oct. 9, 1937, in Columbus to Harold and Nolia (Burgess) Putnam. In 1947, his family moved to Goodyear, Ariz., where he graduated from Phoenix Technical High School in 1955. He earned a bachelor’s degree in instrumental music and a master’s degree in choral music and humanities from Arizona State University (ASU) in Tempe.

He began his 41-year teaching career in 1959 as the music director at Agua Fria Union High School in Avondale, Ariz. In 1965, he became the director of choral activities at McClintock High School in Tempe.

In August 1971, he returned to Columbus to inaugurate the music program at Platte College, now Central Community College-Columbus. That same year, he founded the Platte Campus Cantari, an eight-voice show choir performing madrigals, sacred music and popular music of the day. The Chorale was added in the fall of 1973 and had 18-24 singers. Both Chorale and Cantari toured to over 30 Nebraska middle and high schools each spring and performed for local, regional and state conventions. Each May, Chorale took an alternating three-week tour to the Southeast or Southwest United States, performing on cruise ships, in churches, schools and for national and international festivals. They performed 26 times at a Disney Magic Music Days in California or Florida. Overseas tours included Bermuda, the Bahamas, Germany, Austria and Italy. He retired from CCC in 2000.

In 1982, he helped re-establish the Columbus Community Band. He played in and later co-conducted the band until 2015. He was a member of the Columbus Friends of Board and the Columbus Arts Council for several terms. After retiring, he mentored at middle schools, high schools and universities throughout the state and country; coached voice and piano students in the Columbus area; and composed and arranged music for individuals, schools and professional performers.

He was a life member of the National Association for Music Education, Arizona Music Educators, Nebraska Music Educators and The American Choral Director’s Association.

His many honors include the Arizona Music Educator Association’s President’s Gold Award for excellence in music education and the Nebraska Community College Association’s Faculty Member of the Year Award. At CCC, he was the 1990 Platte Person of the Year and the 1993 Phi Theta Kappa Teacher of the Year.

Survivors include two sons, two grandchildren and several great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his parents and younger brother.

McKown Funeral Home in Columbus was in charge of arrangements. Condolences may be left at

Employee news

Columbus Campus

Melissa Forney-Doles has resigned as a student services administrative assistant.

Harakrishna Rajeev Mendadala has joined the staff as a biology instructor.

Craig Potthast, advanced manufacturing plastics trainer and coordinator, has been named RJG’s Qualified Trainer of the Year.

Grand Island Campus

Robin Barrera is shifting positions from nursing admissions technician to Academic Success Center coordinator.

Hailey Morrow has resigned as medical laboratory technician program director.

Mallory Swantek, counseling and prevention education coordinator, has completed 30 hours of continuing education in assessment and treatment, psychopharmacology and managing ADHD in an educational setting. She is now an ADHD-Certified Clinical Services Provider.

Hastings Campus

Jody Davis has resigned as a custodian.

Kearney Center

Jordan Eisenmenger, financial aid associate director, received the Oscar R. “Jack” Hendrix Award, which is equivalent to a Rookie of the Year Award, at the Rocky Mountain Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators conference in October.