March 2024 Central Connection

March 1, 2024

Program provides a pathway to careers

By Joni Ransom
Chief of Staff

Their energy and enthusiasm are as evident as the sparks sprayed by a welding gun.

Zach Mader and Faith Wilson may come from different backgrounds and have different goals in life, but they share a common role as high school welding students at Central Community College-Grand Island.

Mader grew up on a farm in the Grand Island area and is a senior at Northwest High School. He’s taken welding classes ever since he was a freshman, but he wanted to go further. His high school counselor told him about CCC’s Career Pathways program. For Wilson, who is homeschooled, that information came from the Homeschool Association.

Career pathways allow juniors and seniors to take college courses while they’re in high school, according to CCC Early College Director Jamey Peterson-Jones. They can earn college credit that will apply toward a certificate, diploma and associate degree at CCC or can be transferred to other two- and four-year schools.

 “These pathways give high school students a chance to discover what they want or don’t want to do as a career,” Peterson-Jones said. “They also help students be successful in college where the expectations are very different from high school.”

Both Mader and Wilson talked about the thrill – and sometimes the tension – of learning new welding skills in a college environment. They mentioned the challenge of flux-cored and submerged arc welding, the necessity for eye-hand coordination in TIG welding, and the awkwardness of welding overhead.

Mader brought his previous experience with him. “I’ve always liked to build things, ever since I was a little kid,” he said. As a high school student, he built a bench trailer for his high school to use at Husker Harvest Days.

“I’ve appreciated getting to know the instructors on a personal level,” he said. Although he would like to continue his postsecondary education at CCC, he wants to play baseball, which the college doesn’t offer. He’s exploring Southeast or Northeast Community College and plans to go into precision agriculture and then work for a smaller company.

Wilson, on the other hand, came to CCC with “zero experience with welding.”

Her desire to weld grew from helping out at their neighbors’ farm near Hastings, which made her realize she wants to ranch. That meant being able to fix equipment. Wilson, who is a junior, works for her dad’s chiropractor practice in the afternoon and devotes her mornings to school.

“I was intimidated at first,” she said of entering the welding program at CCC, “but I wanted to prove I can do this, too.”

Being able to teach students from where they are and setting them in the direction they want to go is a hallmark of the Career Pathways. It’s a popular option for students.

“Our enrollment is up 6.7 percent for the year,” Peterson-Jones said. “We are thrilled students have so many opportunities. Right now, we have 13 Career Pathways but we’re looking to expand to 15.”

The Career Pathways available at CCC are advanced manufacturing design technology, agricultural sciences, automotive technology, business administration, construction technology, criminal justice, drafting and design technology, information technology and systems, mechatronics, media arts, health sciences, and welding technology.

High school students also can take advantage of online general education and programming courses.

Students who complete 12 credit hours from the college while in high school are eligible to receive the CCC Transition Advantage Scholarship. This scholarship funds up to 12 credit hours for students who enroll full-time at CCC within 12 months of graduating from high school.

“They can save time and money by finishing a college associate degree, diploma or certificate early,” Peterson-Jones said. “More importantly, they can start here and go anywhere.”

Tool donations go to automotive students

By Scott Miller
College Communications Senior Director

Central Community College made special deliveries on Feb. 2 to Hastings High School and Kearney High School.

The Carriage House Foundation has funded a CCC scholarship for many years. This year, the scholarship dollars were used to purchase tools for students in the automotive technology pathway programs at Hastings High School, Kearney High School and Janssen Ford in Holdrege. The tool delivery at Janssen Ford was made on Jan. 25.

More than $20,000 worth of tools were purchased for the three locations, including digital torque wrenches and micrometers and a tire spreader. Sam Matticks, the CCC automotive technology instructor who oversees the Kearney High School pathways program, said the tools should give the students a boost as the tools meet current industry standards.

“I think it’s a great advantage,” Matticks said. “The electric tools are wonderful. The students will be able to save angles and find torque easier. This is definitely a leg up for the kids.”

Athan Schanou is one of the KHS students who will benefit from learning how to properly use the tools.

“It’s definitely a great luxury for us to have nice electronic stuff to use in the shop,” said Schanou. “It will help us learn a little bit more about torque specs. The tire spreader will help a lot because our old one wasn’t really working the greatest.”

Piitz, Gdowski mark special anniversary

Two Central Community College-Columbus employees have completed 25 years of service.

Willie Piitz

Willie Piitz of Columbus started work on Nov. 19, 1998, as an assistant in the business division under then associate dean Leon Sanders. About a year later, he moved into his current position as student accounts director.

The 25 years is a bit misleading, however, because Piitz had worked at CCC before. After graduating from the Columbus Campus with an associate of applied science degree in business in 1988, he began working part-time in student services. He worked in registration, helped with the 25th Columbus Campus anniversary celebration and staffed the reception desk for people taking evening classes.

He left CCC to work for Walmart, first as a customer service manager and then as assistant manager. During the approximately seven years he worked for the company, he lived in North Plate, Hastings and Lincoln although his job took him across the state.

After returning to CCC, he worked part-time at Walmart for a time.

Piitz is a graduate of East Butler High School who has a love of music and theater.  While he was a CCC student, he was involved with plays under then theater instructor Dick Averett. These days, he is active with Friends of Music, the Platte Valley Playhouse and St. Bonaventure Catholic Church in Columbus. He also serves as treasurer on the Columbus TeamMates board.

Lisa Gdowski

Lisa Gdowski of Columbus began full-time work at the campus on Feb. 1, 1999, as financial aid director, the position she still holds today. She also served as advisor of the Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society from 2004 to 2014 and as co-coordinator of the Columbus Food and Hygiene Pantry from 2019 to 2021.

Prior to joining the staff, she worked as regional administrative assistant and procurement and distribution senior accounting clerk at Continental Grain Company-Wayne Feeds Division in Columbus. She also taught community education computer classes and non-credit craft classes at CCC before accepting her full-time position.

She earned associate of applied science degrees in accounting and business management from CCC-Columbus, a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Nebraska-Kearney and a master’s degree in education from Wayne State College.

Her community involvement includes serving as secretary and treasurer of the American Legion Auxiliary and as a member of the Columbus Public Schools Foundation Scholarship Selection Committee, Nebraska United Federal Energy Credit Union Scholarship Selection Committee and EducationQuest Foundation Reaching Your Potential Scholarship Committee. She is a former member of the Columbus Chapter TeamMates Mentoring Program Board of Directors.

Her professional memberships include the Nebraska (NEASFAA), Rocky Mountain and National (NASFAA) associations of financial aid administrators. She is past president and current treasurer of NeASFAA and the recipient of its 2022 Distinguished Service Award. She has completed all 16 NASFAA University credentials and its Certified Financial Aid Administrator® Program.

Her awards include the 2023 League Excellence Award from the League for Innovation in the Community College, 2017 CCC TRiO/SSS Support Award and 2003 CCC Employee of the Year Award. From Phi Theta Kappa, Gdowski received the 2014 Continued Excellence Advisor Award, 2011 Distinguished Advisor Award and 2007 Paragon Award for New Advisors.

She and her husband, Bob, have a daughter and three grandchildren.

Employee news

Columbus Campus

Kim Saum has shifted position from resource center assistant to student services administrative assistant.

Grand Island Campus

Erica Sheldon has joined the staff as a nursing instructor.

Hastings Campus

New employees include Rebecca Blome, accounting clerk; Tony Harper, admissions director; and Patrick Kucera, plumbing and maintenance technician.

David Tuberville has shifted positions from custodial supervisor to a truck driving trainer.

Jason Davis, associate dean of community and workforce education, was one of 29 individuals to complete Class XV of Leadership Nebraska and be honored at a graduation ceremony Feb. 8 in Lincoln.

The Leadership Nebraska program includes six three-day sessions held in various locations across Nebraska. It's designed to help participants expand their leadership skills and deepen their knowledge of the challenges and opportunities facing the state.

Lexington Center

Cheryl Bower-Richardson of Lexington is retiring as administrative assistant at the Lexington Center. She also serves as the center's receptionist, does work for the Holdrege and Kearney centers and serves as administrative assistant for Dan Gettinger, associate dean of community and workforce education.

She joined the CCC staff in 2012, but she’s actually spent 35 years in the building that now houses the Lexington Center. She worked there when it was Walmart, starting out as a part-time casher and then running the cash office before serving as an invoice clerk and Good Works coordinator.

Although much of the building has been remodeled, in the back part there is one spot where the old Walmart paneling remains. That area just happens to be where her office was located.

Prior to Walmart and CCC, she worked in hotel and motel management at ski resorts in Colorado.

Bowers-Richardson is a graduate of Grand Island Northwest High School who attended CCC-Hastings.

While her kids were growing up, she served as troop committee chair for Troop 88 and president of the Parents-Teachers Organization. She is a member of Lexington Christian Church.

She and her husband, Calvin, have a mowing business that will keep her busy during the summer. She also will have more time to spend with her two sons, stepdaughter and five grandchildren.