September 2023 Central Connection

September 1, 2023

Gillespie to receive ACCT regional award

By Scott Miller
Senior Director of College Communications

Dr. Lauren Gillespie has been named as the recipient of 2023 Western Region Faculty Member of the Year Award by the Association of Community Colleges Trustees (ACCT). The award recognizes excellence in teaching at the community college.

Gillespie began teaching biology at CCC-Columbus in 2017 and recently accepted an associate professor position at Anne Arundel Community College in Maryland.

Gillespie will receive the award during the 54th annual ACCT Leadership Congress in Las Vegas in November. As a regional award recipient, she is one of five nominees for the ACCT’s prestigious William H. Meardy Faculty Member Award, which will also be presented at the leadership congress.

“I am incredibly honored to be recognized as the ACCT Western Region Faculty Member of the Year,” said Gillespie. “This honor motivates me to continue to advocate for career training for academic-track STEM students at community colleges. As I start my new journey at Anne Arundel Community College, I am immensely grateful to CCC for the opportunities to begin fulfilling my life goal of changing the world one student at a time.”

While at CCC-Columbus, Gillespie was the co-project director of the National Science Foundation-funded scholarship program ‘Growing Pathways to STEM” (Project GPS), which uses a cohort model, undergraduate research experiences and industry relationships to further student success. She also established a framework for the research program known as the Bluebird Project, where students helped establish nest-box trails both on campus and in the local community and collected data from the local bluebird population.

During a routine lab session, Gillespie discovered a population of barn swallows exhibiting partial albinism leading to several local and international research collaborations, elements of which she integrated into her classroom and laboratory activities. In 2022, she was published in a top journal, “Molecular Biology and Evolution,” as part of an international collaboration of researchers studying the mitochondrial genomes of all barn swallow subspecies.

“We greatly appreciate the impact Dr. Gillespie has made on our students and their time at Central Community College,” said CCC President Dr. Matt Gotschall. “Her applied research and connection to student learning can serve as a model for others to follow.” 

Gillespie is a past recipient of the American Association for Community Colleges Dale P. Parnell Distinguished Faculty Award for service in teaching and leadership at CCC and with Project GPS. In 2020, she received the League Excellence Award by the League of Community Colleges in recognition of her commitment to excellence in community college teaching and leadership.

Ram Run and Walk

The 2023 Ram Run and Walk will get underway at 8 a.m. on Sept. 9 at Central Community College-Hastings.

Individuals of all ages may sign up to run or walk a 5K or 1-mile course.

Registration will be from 6:45 to 7:45 a.m. in the Hall Student Union, which is also where the awards will be presented.

There is an entry fee.

For detailed information, go to

CCC, Opendorse team up for marketplace

By Scott Miller
Senior Director of College Communications

Central Community College athletics and Lincoln-based Opendorse have teamed up to develop an official marketplace for CCC student-athletes to maximize their name, image and likeness (NIL) potential. CCC is the first community college in Nebraska to enter a contract with Opendorse.

A leading athlete marketplace and NIL company, Opendorse provides technology and services to the athlete endorsement industry. Its marketplace is a one-stop shop for fans and brands to browse, book, pitch and pay any CCC student-athlete for NIL activities in one compliant platform.

“It’s an exciting time for Raiders athletics,” said CCC athletic director Mary Young. “NIL is truly new waters for us, and we are glad to be partnered not only with an industry leader, but a Nebraska-based firm on this new path.”

CCC student-athletes can create a profile on the marketplace which they can customize and promote on social media platforms. Student-athletes can review opportunities and agree to deals that will allow them to capitalize on their name, image and likeness.

“Our association with Opendorse gives us an avenue to support athletes with NIL compliance and education,” said Young. “Opendorse will provide CCC athletics the ability to develop our NIL policy and provide a consistent branded message regarding NIL.”

Opendorse works with more than 100,000 athletes and is the official NIL partner for the National Junior College Athletic Association.

Buy a purple T-shirt, support suicide awareness

Did you know you can raise awareness of suicide by wearing purple?

You can by buying a T-shirt from the Central Community College athletics department. All proceeds will benefit Raider Athletics mental health programming.

Adult shirt sizes are available in heathered purple in sizes small to XXXXL.

Purple youth shirt sizes are available in sizes small to large.

The cost is $10 per shirt for the youth sizes and the adult sizes through adult XL. Sizes XXL through XXXXL are $12.

Orders will be taken through midnight on Sept. 17. Shirts will be available by Oct. 2 and must be picked up at the Raider Athletic Department at CCC-Columbus.

You will be able place your order and pay for your shirt beginning Friday, Sept. 8, at

Project GPS ends with student success

By Joni Ransom
Chief of Staff

Project GPS grew a crop of dedicated and talented students during its lifetime at Central Community College-Columbus.

Its seeds were planted in the late 1990s when the National Science Foundation (NSF) decided to address a serious shortage of scientists, technicians, engineers and mathematicians (STEM workers) by initiating the S-STEM grant program.

In 2017, the NSF awarded CCC a five-year, $648,000 S-STEM grant for the Growing Pathways to STEM project, or as it came to be known, Project GPS.

The project’s foundation consisted of scholarships for promising rural community college students. Built on top was a program that provided Project GPS scholars with extensive mentoring; classroom learning; professional and academic activities, research projects; and collaboration with industry and four-year universities.

Biology instructors Steve Heinisch and Dr. Lauren Gillespie managed the project along with help from mathematics and physics instructor Dave Cassidy.

“By several measures, Project GPS was a success,” Heinisch said. “Project GPS students achieved higher than average GPAs and realized a higher percentage of success transitioning through STEM course sequences than the general student population.”

He also noted that the original proposal grew from 25 to 43 Project GPS scholars. An additional dozen students were involved in activities and research. To date, 21 Project GPS scholars have graduated from CCC and transferred into four-year STEM programs. Four other CCC graduates are employed in full-time STEM positions.

The first of the five cohort groups started in the 2018 fall semester. A sixth year would be added to spend remaining grant money.

Qualifications for the Project GPS scholarship included financial need, academic ability or potential, citizenship and full-time enrollment in a qualifying program at CCC-Columbus.

Heinisch and Gillespie also met with applicants individually to ensure they were a good fit for the program. This was an important consideration because Project GPS used a cohort model that meant students took the same courses to allow them to support each other in the classroom and their service, research and workplace activities.

“We chose to look at each student individually, taking a wholistic approach,” Heinisch said. “Different students dealt with different obstacles. Some needed more academic support while others needed help in managing their mental health. Many needed a boost to their self-confidence to tackle a problem or more structured guidance in time management.”

The immersive and tailored research activities filled an essential function, Gillespie said, because they expanded the students’ ability to think critically, evaluate evidence and present their research at professional scientific conferences and meetings, including the American Ornithological Society, the Global Conference on Sustainability in Higher Education and the Nebraska Academy of Sciences.

Their work also contributed to the scientific body of knowledge in such areas as environmental effects on bluebird behavior, plumage mutations in swallows and fungal mycelium as a building material. Other projects used fungi-based structures and 3-D printing to build solitary bee hotels and computer technology and sensors to design a smart nesting box for birds.

“We treated them more like graduate students,” Gillespie said. “They thought they weren’t capable of doing research, but they rose to the occasion.”

Project GPS also brought together two different individuals who shared a love of biology.

“Lauren coming to CCC was one of the most important things that happened, but it was a collision of two worlds,” Heinisch said. “She was a researcher looking for innovative and novel subjects and I was a professor whose number-one job was teaching.”

“I was straight out of a PhD program, but Steve had experience,” Gillespie said. “He was and continues to be one of the best mentors and best people I know.”

The success of Project GPS has allowed them to leave CCC on a high note, Heinisch into retirement and Gillespie to Arnold, Md., as an assistant biology professor at Anne Arundel Community College.

“Project GPS was a community,” Gillespie said. “The students became best friends. It was beautiful to watch them come into the program and blossom.”

Photo: Katy Ayers rows the 7 ft. 6 in. mushroom boat she created as a Project GPS student at Central Community College. Environmental sustainability intern Ash Gordon also worked on the boat, which earned a spot in the 2021 Guinness World Records as the longest fungal mycelium boat. Ayers and several other Project GPS graduates will be featured in upcoming issues of the Central Connection.

NA/MA recertification comes to centers

By Joni Ransom
Chief of Staff

Central Nebraskans have long had the option of going to Central Community College’s Columbus, Grand Island and Hastings campuses to recertify their nursing assistant (NA) or medication aide (MA) licenses. For residents in the western part of CCC’s service area, though, it meant a long drive.

But in 2023, the distance grew shorter.

That’s because the Holdrege, Kearney and Lexington centers are now approved by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to provide nursing assistant recertification, medication aide recertification and abuse/neglect competency testing.

Karol Cavanaugh, NA/MA program coordinator for the three centers, initiated the process and saw it through to completion. “The State of Nebraska was really glad because people previously had to travel to North Platte or Grand Island to recertify,” she said.

She called Cheryl Bowers-Richardson, administrative assistant at the Lexington Center a “rock star” for helping with the DHHS application and working with Sara Stevens-Stehl, administrative assistant at the Holdrege Center, and Ruth Kirkland, learning center manager at the Kearney Center, to get the service started at their respective locations.

The new service not only helps NAs and MAs seeking recertification but also the hospitals, nursing homes and clinics where they aspire to work.  Other beneficiaries are students from Cozad, Elm Creek, Gibbon, Holdrege, Kearney, Lexington and other area high schools who fill some of these open positions.

“There’s a real need for nursing assistants and medication aides across the country,” Cavanaugh said. “Hiring for your hospital or nursing home can be a struggle.”

A recertification class is scheduled monthly at one of the three centers during the school year, giving students the flexibility to choose the location that works best for them. The instructors are approved to teach at all three centers, giving CCC the means to ensure each scheduled class is covered.

In Nebraska, NAs and MAs must recertify their licenses every two years. They complete at least 75 hours of training and pass the state-approved written/oral exam and clinical/skills competency exam.

“If they are working in a facility, then the facility will keep them up to date with their licenses,” Cavanaugh said. “People also must recertify if they haven’t worked as an NA or MA in a paid position within the past two years.”

All CCC locations also offer the classes for individuals seeking their initial nursing assistant or medication aide certification.

“Adding recertification classes at our centers has been great for people in our area,” Cavanaugh said. “This gives us one more way to serve our community.”

Photo: Karol Cavanaugh, nursing assistant and medication aide program coordinator, grades Veronica Gomez of Lexington as she demonstrates the required skills in a recertification class at Central Community College-Holdrege. (Photo by Sara Stevens-Stehl)

CCC re-ups with Metallica for third year

By Scott Miller
Senior Director of College Communications

Central Community College has been invited to return for a third consecutive year with the All Within My Hands’ (AWMH) Metallica Scholars Initiative. CCC will continue to receive funding to enhance career and technical education programs.

Now in its fifth year, the Metallica Scholars Initiative is supporting 42 community colleges across 33 states. By the end of this year, it will have helped over 6,000 students pursuing careers in the trades. To date, Metallica and AWMH have invested over $6 million in the American workforce.

“The Metallica Scholars Initiative is so important to us because we are seeing results,” said Lars Ulrich, Metallica member. “Five years in, with the help of community colleges across the country, we are helping people fill these essential jobs which require skills and training. We are so proud and grateful that we can facilitate this program.”

CCC is one of 31 returning Metallica Initiative institutions, which have been joined by 11 newly selected schools.

“It is encouraging to know of a national foundation and band, like AWMH and Metallica, supporting such essential careers like law enforcement and criminal justice during times of great regional and national need,” said CCC President Dr. Matt Gotschall.

In the first two years of being a Metallica Scholars Initiative institution, CCC gave out 100 scholarships to criminal justice students.

“The Metallica Scholars have become leaders in CCC’s criminal justice program,” said Michael David, criminal justice program director. “They have also become role models to other students.”

The Metallica Scholars Initiative was launched in 2019 in partnership with the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC).

“We are happy to continue to partner with Metallica’s All Within My Hands Foundation to support the vital career and technical education work of the nation’s community colleges,” said Walter G. Bumphus, AACC president and CEO. “Partners like Metallica that continue to provide support for community colleges help us to showcase the importance of investing in the transformative power of community college education.”

Employees learn to lead with excellence

Nineteen employees completed the 2022-23 Central Community College Leading with Excellence program.

The nine-month program is designed to help employees identify internal opportunities for growth or advancement. Participants visit every CCC location, learn about college operations, build relationships, and gain from personal and professional development activities.

This year’s graduates are pictured above. Seated in the front row are (left to right) Brittney Reeder, service center supervisor; Kelsey Seidler, print shop manager and designer; Lisa Mount, library resource center supervisor; Brad Lang, agribusiness instructor; Angie Araya, Academic Success Center director; Michelle Evert, registration and assessment technician; Amy Mahoney, Adult Education coordinator; Kerri Dey, associate dean of health sciences; and Ricardo Ramirez, financial aid technician.

Standing in the back row are John McKinney, associate dean of skilled and technical sciences; Pennie Morgan, senior director of human resources, who oversees the Leading with Excellence program; Ronda Ryan, assistant registrar; Tiffany Hunt, math readiness project coordinator; Jeff Buescher, agricultural sciences instructor; Traci Skalberg, CCC Foundation executive director; Susan Klusman,  student activities and engagement director; Ulises Valencia, enrollment specialist; and Emily Klimek, graphic design specialist.

Also competing the program were Tod Heier, associate dean of arts and sciences, and Josh York, who recently resigned as associate dean of students.

Kelsey Seidler, Kerri Dey, Ulises Valencia, Emily Klimek and Ricardo Ramirez gave a presentation on employee appreciation for their final project. Photo by Kory Cetak; Large group photo by Austin Remm)

Volunteers serve adult education program

Sixty-eight individuals served as volunteers for the Central Community College Adult Education (AE) program during the 2022-23 academic year.

The AE program includes assistance with basic reading, writing, math and spelling skills; drills and special instruction through the English as a Second Language program; and preparation for the General Educational Development (GED) high school equivalency exam.

Volunteers served as tutors, advisory board members and classroom aides; performed office clerical tasks; helped with fundraising and recruiting projects; and completed a variety of other essential duties.

During 2022-23, the volunteers gave 2,730.25 hours of their time to the AE program, serving 2,268 people.

During the same time frame, 64 people earned their high school diploma.

Volunteers were:

COLUMBUS: Brittany Allers, Madeleine Anderson, Emily Belvery, Janet Bouc, Annabel Buggi, Sylvia Coffey, Shiy Delp, Dean Fuchser, Brianna George-Anderson, Carol Goering, Catherine Hare, Connie Hickey, Denzel Hodges, Helen Jarecki, Lucille Kalinowski, Larry Kauffman, Josette Kluck, Marcia Medina, Olivier Musungay, Jeanmarie Nelson, Anna Osman, Bill Podraza, Thomas Salyard, Beth Sparrow, Sarah Sudi, Jim Thiele and Katelyn Wiegand.

GRAND ISLAND: Mary Lamken and Maria Perchez.

HASTINGS: Diana Arellano, Stephanie Bloyer, Heather Bolte, Dustin Bower, Breanna Brennfoerder, Karen Buchanan, Virginia Deam-Nein, Don Eberle, Eric Edwards, Brooklyn Elwood, Claire Fahsholtz, Leo Getzfred, Carla Hedstrom, Suzanne Hohner, Clay Johnson, Ruthanna Johnson, Madeline Kamler, Rebecca Kimminau, Jackie Koepke, Riley Lanning, Karl Ludwig, Charly Lufkin, Peggy Mace, Maria Martinez, Charles McGinnis, Casandra Mendoza, Mikhala Miller, Elizabeth Musgrave, Josefina Perez, Kathy Schultz, Anthony Terwey, Karen Valdes and Angela Wang.

KEARNEY: Roxanne Hinrichs, Harper Marshall, Megan Rogers, Becky Schwarz and Kathy Wroblewski.

LEXINGTON: Patti Maguire.

Christensen celebrates 25 years of college service

Kelly Christensen of Kearney has completed 25 years of service at Central Community College.

He joined the staff on Aug. 3, 1998, as learning support services coordinator at the Hastings Campus, a position he held until January 2000 when he became the associate dean of trades and industry.

In 2013, he made a shift to the extended learning services (ELS, now community and workforce education) division, serving as the associate dean for the Holdrege, Kearney and Lexington centers. At the time, training and development (T&D) also fell under his responsibilities.

During the summer of 2017, ELS and T&D were split into separate divisions, and Christensen became dean of training and development. He also was named administrator of the Kearney Center, which made the transition to its new and current location in August of that year.

He replaced ELS dean Ron Kluck when he retired in August 2022 and served in that position until January 2023 when he was named vice president of community and workforce education. He also retains his Kearney Center administrator duties.

Christensen started working for Midwest Audio Company in 1979 while he was a student at York High School and would eventually transfer to its Kearney location. He became a shareholder and manager before resigning from the company in 1996. For the next two years, he coordinated driving education and the driving course at the Nebraska Safety Center as well as taught driver’s ed.

After he graduated from York High School, Christensen went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in industrial education and a master’s degree in instructional technology from the University of Nebraska-Kearney and a certificate of community college leadership and a doctorate in education leadership in higher education from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

He has completed Leadership Hastings, Leadership Kearney and Leadership Nebraska and is a past member of the Sertoma Club. His current community involvement includes the Kearney Works Board, Kearney Area Chamber of Commerce and the Kearney Sustainable Housing Board.

He and his wife, Michelle, have two children and two grandchildren.

Employee news

Administrative Office

New employees include Jason Jensen, information technology systems specialist, and Ankamma Reddy Kolli, institutional research analyst.

Columbus Campus

Ryan Coffey has shifted positions from groundskeeper to building maintenance technician.

Grand Island Campus

Joshua Webb has joined the staff as an Emergency Management Services clinical director.

Hastings Campus

Sherrie Dux-Ideus, library resource center supervisor, attended a National Endowment for the Humanities Institute June 19-23. The virtual institute was called “Fifty Years Later: The Vietnam War Through the Eyes of Veterans, Vietnamese and Southeast Asian Refugees.”

The cohort of 36 scholars included full-time and adjunct faculty, librarians and scholars from both community colleges and four-year academic institutions. They heard from authors, Vietnamese refugees, veterans and first-generation Vietnamese Americans about the impact of the Vietnam War to the present.

Alyssa Mohlman has joined the staff as a custodian.

Kearney Center

Chemistry instructor Yunteng He has recently had three articles published online. Two of them, “Boosting Student Engagement and Achievement during Collaborative Learning,” and “Quasi-active Learning: An Approach to Blending Active Learning and Lecture,” can be found at The third, “Four Steps to Promote Student Success in College Classrooms,” has been published on