March 2023 Central Connection

March 2, 2023

League Excellence Award recipients are Troy Davis, Nick Freelend, Lisa Gdowski, Catrina Gray and Corey Hatt in the top row and Lindsay Higel, Jeff Kitson, Joni Ransom, Joni Schlatz and Aaron Thiessen in the bottom row.

Award recognizes employee innovation

Ten Central Community College employees have received the 2022-23 League Excellence Award from The League for Innovation in the Community College.

“I am honored to be able to recognize these outstanding employees,” said College President Dr. Matt Gotschall, who nominated them for the award. “They have used their innovation to make a state or nationally recognized initiative that positively impacts our CCC students and communities.”

CCC’s honorees are:

Troy Davis

Troy Davis, advanced manufacturing and design technology instructor at the Hastings Campus, has been instrumental in multiple state and national projects. This is most notable with the designation of CCC-Hastings as a regional teacher training center for Haas manufacturing equipment where teachers are trained on the latest equipment for use in their classrooms. Davis also has participated in Nebraska SkillsUSA contests as a judge and has shared his knowledge with manufacturing leaders in the state through the Nebraska Manufacturing Advisory Council.

Nick Freelend

Nick Freelend, director of student activities and an academic adviser at the Grand Island Campus, has been involved in promoting innovation, compassionate and engaging student activities in the Grand Island community for decades. Additionally, he has sought opportunities to engage students in attending regional National Association for Campus Activities conferences so they can bring back ideas to implement on campus and to share with the area.

Lisa Gdowski

Lisa Gdowski, financial aid director at the Columbus Campus, has served in leadership roles for state and national financial aid associations as well as taken on adviser roles that have positively impacted regional and national recognition of students through the Phi Theta Kappa organization. Most recently, she received a Distinguished Service Award from the Nebraska Association of Student Financial Aid Directors. She also is one of only a few Nebraskans to achieve national certification in financial aid administration.

Catrina Gray

Catrina Gray, college apprenticeship director, successfully launched an apprenticeship model for CCC, making connections with the state and national Department of Labor and receiving recognition from the Nebraska governor. She now leads a $4 million grant expanding and replicating our successful model to the Northeast and Southeast community college areas of Nebraska to reach dozens of companies and a significant amount of student apprentices.

Corey Hatt

Corey Hatt is the state director of the Nebraska Math Readiness Project. He successfully launched this innovative project that helps high school students build the skills needed to succeed in college-level math. This project includes public and private schools of all sizes in all Nebraska’s community college service areas. The results are exceeding national benchmarks in preparing students to reach college math competencies prior to high school graduation and in projecting student postsecondary success.

Lindsay Higel

Lindsay Higel, hospitality management and culinary arts program director at the Hastings Campus, has been instrumental in developing innovative curriculum and updating facilities on the Hastings Campus. She has expanded services by including new curriculum and adding a food truck. She has promoted student involvement in national hospitality and culinary tours and attended an international conference in Australia and New Zealand to bring back best practices to incorporate in Nebraska.

Jeff Kitson

Jeff Kitson, vocal music instructor at the Columbus Campus, received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music theory and composition from Michigan State University with a secondary emphasis in choral conducting. His choirs have appeared across Nebraska and at Carnegie Hall in New York City; the International Festival of the Aegean in Syros, Greece; the Vatican in Rome, and most recently in Austria and the Czech Republic. In 2018 and 2019, he was selected for the Oxford University Choral Summer Singing School in Oxford, England. At CCC, Kitson has served as president of the Faculty Senate and as lead of the humanities area.

Joni Ransom

Joni Ransom, college chief of staff, has reached hundreds of thousands of area citizens through regular press releases, the Community Connection alumni magazine, the Central Connection newsletter and web-based communications and marketing efforts. Always an advocate for our students, employees, alumni and communities, she has received writing, editing, photography and publication design awards from the Nebraska Press Women, National Federation of Press Women and District 5 of the National Council for Marketing and Public Relations.

Joni Schlatz

Joni Schlatz, health information management services (HIMS) instructor at the Grand Island Campus, has been a leader in business technology and HIMS curriculum for decades, always up to date and on the cutting edge.  She holds a national certification in HIMS while assisting with regional accreditation efforts and completing a sabbatical. She recently worked with the Nebraska Department of Education to present workshops on ethics, trust and leadership across the state after becoming an Ethics Integration Specialist for the MBA Research and Curriculum Center.

Aaron Thiessen

Aaron Thiessen, groundskeeping supervisor at the Hastings Campus, has been a leader in arboretum development. He has held workshops on tree management and earned ACRT Arborist Training certification. He was instrumental in getting CCC-Hastings recognized as a USA Tree Campus and was part of CCC’s recognition for the 2022 Nebraska Statewide Arboretum’s Affiliate Excellence Award. He also hosted a Mid-Nebraska Tree and Landscape Workshop that draws attendees from across the state to the Hastings Campus each fall.

Training essential to emergency response

By Joni Ransom
Chief of Staff

Photo caption: Hylee Horner, financial aid director, and Laura Emde, accounting technician, handle phone calls from building captains reporting to the Emergency Response Team during a lockdown drill Dec. 2, 2022, at Central Community College-Grand Island. (Photo by Joni Ransom)

Depending on the weather, a fire drill may elicit a few groans, and yet, that familiar fire alarm represents an entire emergency response structure at Central Community College.

The structure is built upon a foundation of both college-wide and campus-specific emergency response plans, said Lenore Koliha, college environmental health and safety director. Within that structure are employees who serve on the Emergency Response Team (ERT) and as building captains.

The college follows the National Incident Management System (NIMS) administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Under NIMS, the incident commander is the person in charge of the situation. Under the incident commander are the section chiefs for planning, operations, logistics, public information, liaison, and finance and administration.

“Everyone must listen to the incident commander and comply to their authority,” Koliha said. “The only one who can override the incident commander is the safety officer because, for example, a building may be structurally unsafe to enter after a tornado. This chain of command provides a locus of control.”

The building captains serve as the connection between the ERT and CCC employees, students and visitors. “Their role is mostly communication,” Koliha said. “They report to the ERT about incident status and response. If there is a tornado, they get people to a shelter. If there’s a fire, they gather them in an assembly area.”

The number of building captains assigned to a building depends on such factors as its size, whether it is multileveled and whether evening classes are held in it. Koliha said all CCC custodians are building captains.

Training is imperative for the more than 230 employees in emergency response roles. Koliha said the college is required by the Clery Act to do at least one emergency response drill each year to test the Emergency Response Plan, but she holds two: one full drill and one tabletop session at each campus. Residence halls are required to have at least four fire drills a semester under the National Fire Protection Association guidelines.

“We’re also starting to hold training at the Kearney Center,” she said. “We’ve modified the emergency plan to fit the learning centers, so they have their own specific emergency response program.”

When the college holds an active shooter drill, it often also provides training for local emergency responders such as local hospitals; members of the local fire, police, and sheriff departments; state patrol; and even the FBI.

In addition to people, communication plays an integral role in emergency response. Employees and students receive RAVE alerts about emergencies by landline and cell phone, text and email. ALERTUS uses computer and digital displays to relay the same alerts. Strobes, beacons, LED displays and outdoor speakers also get the message out.

“In general, the emergency response team takes an all-hazards approach,” Koliha said, listing fires, tornados, lockdowns, assailants, weather, and toxic spills as possible emergencies. “We don’t know what’s going to happen, so we don’t know how we’ll need to respond. The more information and training we have increases our ability to manage the incident, and the less likely we are to panic. That’s what is important.”

Credential enriches career services’ work

By Joni Ransom
Chief of Staff

Photo caption: Andrea Hays and Joan McCarthy (top) and Brenda Preister and Craig Ratzlaff (bottom).

Andrea Hays was still new to her position as career and employment services (CES) director at Central Community College-Hastings when she asked her Grand Island counterpart, Joan McCarthy, what those initials – GCDF – after her name meant.

The answer was Global Career Development Facilitator, and it set Hays and Brenda Preister, CES director at the Columbus Campus, on a journey to earn their own GCDF credentials.

The GCDF training program is a 120-hour commitment. Although most of the training can be taken online, 24 hours must be in person. Hays and Preister were able to take the face-to-face classes locally because of Craig Ratzlaff, a trainer who also happens to be a retired CCC-Grand Island personal development and education instructor.

While still working at CCC, Ratzlaff served as president of the Nebraska Career Development Association and came to believe in the importance of training. He completed his initial GCDF training in 2001 and then worked with the extended learning services (now community and workforce education) division to begin offering the training in Grand Island every year or two.

The original GCDF credential was developed in the 1990s by the Center for Credentialing and Education (CCE) in collaboration with the National Career Development Association and the National Occupational Information Coordinating Committee, according to the CCE website. Since then, more than 14,000 people in the U.S. and more than 30,000 in 23 different countries have earned the credential.

In addition to the GCDF credential, participants can earn a second credential. After they complete CCE’s updated Facilitating Career Development training, they can apply for a Certified Career Services Professional (CCSP) from the National Career Development Association (NCDA). The NCDA website states the organization has awarded more than 2,900 credentials since the program’s inception in 2017.

The CCC career services personnel are happy with the results of their training.

“I have many new tools in my toolbox when helping students who are at various stages of career exploration,” Preister said. “This may include new students who are still deciding on a path and alumni who are making a career change.”

She cited as new tools the ability to stay current with best practices, find resources to help with assessment and share the knowledge she gained in classroom presentations.

“The most amazing part was being able to take the class right here at CCC,” Hays said. “Craig is very connected with professional organizations, and Joan has been with career services a long time. They’re national resources in our own backyard.”

McCarthy had been in career services earlier in her professional life and returned to the field when she came to work at CCC. She earned her GCDF credential in 2018.

“Craig’s class was a terrific help in refreshing my skills and knowledge,” she said. “This is serious work because we’re talking about someone’s life’s work. We need solid skills to really assist them.”

Unlike McCarthy, the other two CES directors were new to career services, but they brought experience from the other positions they held in the college, Hays in student activities and Preister in the Academic Success Center (ASC).

“My time in the ASC helped teach me how to build relationships with students,” Preister said. “I learned how to break down tasks into smaller pieces, so they are more easily managed and less overwhelming.”

“My old position has helped because I already had connections with the faculty and was used to working with students,” Hays said. “For a new professional (in career services), the training has been great. There was a lot I didn’t know, but now I do.”

Continuing education requirements ensure credential holders stay up to date in their skills and knowledge. An annual fee also is required to maintain the credential.

“Having this career development credentialing adds professionalism,” Ratzlaff said. “The fact that everyone in career services is credentialed really means something. It shows true commitment on their part.”


The XR lab at Central Community College-Columbus was a popular stop during Alumni Weekend 2023. Colleen Vetick, instructional technology specialist, helps one young visitor with the virtual reality headset. (Photo by Scott Miller)

Alumni Weekend 2023

By Cheri Beda
Alumni Director

Central Community College- Columbus held Alumni Weekend 2023 from Friday, Feb. 24, through Sunday, Feb. 26, with everyone welcome to a wide range of events.

Campus tours were conducted both Friday and Saturday, allowing visitors to explore the new building and updated facilities, guided by current students, faculty, and staff.

The Business After Hours at the Columbus Innovation Center on Friday was sponsored by CCC and the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce. It was a great success with more than 150 people enjoying refreshments and networking.

On Saturday, visitors enjoyed a Family Fun Day and complimentary burger lunch.

Interactive activities included the virtual reality lab, nursing demonstrations, fire safety, birthing cow, caricature artist, military and veterans’ resources, welding simulator, mechatronics simulation, a variety of community education activities and more.

Both the women’s and men’s Raider basketball games had free admission and popcorn. The Athletic Hall of Fame induction rounded out the evening on Saturday.

The weekend concluded with a band concert and fine arts showcase on Sunday, featuring musical performances by the CCC Concert Band and student art from the visual art and design department.

This weekend exceeded all expectations. Each  event was heavily attended and a good time was had by all.

Anderson, Payne begin their retirements

Donna Anderson and Deb Payne have retired from Central Community College.

Donna Anderson

Anderson joined the Grand Island Campus staff in 1999, working exclusively in the production room, where she handled copying, mail and supplies.

A few years ago, she became a printing and administrative support technician and split her time between the production room and student accounts.

Anderson previously had worked in day care, then as a receptionist and secretary for the Grand Island Senior High School’s Progress School and finally at Principal Financial Group, first as a transcriptionist and then in the mailroom and copy room.

She is a graduate of Central Catholic High School and earned a diploma in medical coding from CCC.

Her significant other, Randy Zalman, retired from CCC-Grand Island in 2012. She has three children and one grandson with two more grandchildren on the way.

Deb Payne

Payne started work in 1975 at the college’s location in downtown Grand Island as a receptionist and data entry secretary in the purchasing department.

She transferred to the computer department after CCC moved to its current location. She served as a data entry clerk, computer operator and systems administrator before accepting her last position as an operations support specialist.

“She really did a great job with our Early College efforts,” said Ron Kluck, retired dean of extended learning services. “She provided valuable support to high school teachers and students.”

Payne also had worked part-time at Delicious Foods, fast food restaurants and retail and at the racetrack.

She is a graduate of Grand Island Senior High School and took classes at CCC.

She and her husband, Steve, live on a farm outside of Grand Island. She has a son and three granddaughters.

Students’ creative work on display at CCC-Hastings

The creative work of seven media arts students at Central Community College-Hastings is on display through April 28.

Individuals are welcome to stop by to see the 2023 Mixed Media Art Show in the second-floor hallway of the Platte Building, which is open Mondays through Thursdays from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Fridays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. There is no entrance fee.

Students displaying their work are pictured. Seated in the front row are Cole Williams of Geneva, Laura Christiansen of Hastings and Cristian Betancourt of Grand Island. Standing in the back row are Jesus Galaviz of Grand Island, Trevor Isaac of Kearney, Gillian Gangstad of Fairmont and Bryan Gama of Hastings.

Yum, yum: Chili Cook-Off returns

Nearly 100 individuals stopped by to sample entries in the Chili Cook-Off on Feb. 15 at Central Community College-Grand Island.

The judges’ selected the following winners:

Flying Flames (Hottest Chili): Campus Crusade for Christ’s Holy Smokes Chili.

Most Creative Chili: Follett Campus Bookstore’s Basic Beef Chili.

Easy on the Tummy Chili: Veterans and Military Resource Center’s (VMRC) Great White Chili.

Thickest Chili: Student Activities’ Turkey Black Bean Chili.

Best Display: Criminal Justice Student Association’s Convict Chili.

Paige Gibreal and Sheila Kiiker (pictured) from CCC’s accounting department won the People’s Choice Award for their Double Trouble Chili. They donated their winnings to the students, so the $100.74 raised was split between the VMRC and the Criminal Justice Student Association.

“Taking a couple years off for a pandemic and recovery did not dent the creativity and generosity of our campus,” said Nick Freelend, student activities director. “The weather cooperated nicely and almost everyone ran out of chili before the event ended.”

In tribute

Betty Lou Elder

Betty Lou Elder, 69, died Feb. 7 At Stormont Vail Hospital in Topeka, Kan.

Services were Feb. 13 at Culbertson-Smith Mortuary in Wichita, Kan., with interment at Seltzer Springs Cemetery.

She was born on Sept. 13, 1953, in Red Cloud to Orin W. and Mary Lou (Dick) Elder.

She graduated from Smith Center High School in Kansas and pursued bachelor’s degrees in elementary education from Kansas and Wichita state universities and doctorates in genetics from Texas A&M University and in curriculum and instruction-science education from the University of Nebraska.

She was a second grade teacher in Lakin, Kan., and a first grade teacher in Beloit, Kan., before serving as a park ranger in Yellowstone National Park.

She returned to teaching, but at the postsecondary level. She taught at Fort Hays State University; Texas A&M University; Central Community College-Grand Island; Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kan.; and the Bryan School of Nursing in Lincoln. She retired in 2019 as an associate professor of nursing at Wichita State University.

Survivors include her mother, sister and a brother. She was preceded in death by her father and a brother.

Memorials may be made to the Wichita State University School of Nursing.

Debi Pieper

Deborah “Debi” Pieper, 68, of Grand Island died Jan. 8 at Nebraska Medicine Medical Center in Omaha.

Services were Jan. 13 at St. Pauls Lutheran Church in Grand Island with burial to be in Westlawn Memorial Park Cemetery.

She was born on Jan. 24, 1954, in Grand Island to Edward and Shirley (McGuire) Dingwerth.

After graduating from Grand Island Central Catholic High School, she went to work at Red Rooster where she met her future husband, Jerome “Jerry” Pieper. They were married on March 26, 1988, in Grand Island.

After Red Rooster was sold, she worked for Skagway, Bullet Weights, the Platt Duetsche and Hy-Vee. She retired from Central Community College in 2022.

She was named Grand Chairman of the Harvest of Harmony for her work on the parade, which included adding the University of Nebraska band.

Survivors include her husband, son and two grandsons. She was preceded in death by her parents and a brother.

Memorials are suggested to Live On Nebraska or to the family. Online condolences may be left at

Employee news

Columbus Campus

New full-time employees include Cody Anderson, advanced manufacturing and machining coordinator and trainer; Melissa Doles, student services administrative assistant; and Yaramis Ramos Hernandez, print shop coordinator and designer.

Sean McDonald has been hired as a college-wide speech instructor, beginning with the fall semester.

Grand Island Campus

Jeanette Anderson has joined the staff as an accounting clerk.

Kelsey Meharg has shifted positions from admissions technician to institutional research coordinator in the Administrative Office.

Ulises Valencia has shifted positions from admissions and recruiting coordinator to enrollment specialist.

Hastings Campus

Susan Klusman has been promoted from Academic Success Center coordinator to director of student activities and engagement.

Trevor Plautz has resigned as a truck driving trainer.

Kayla Svoboda has joined the staff as a math instructor and will begin teaching during the fall semester.