Courteney Zwiebel

The Stepping Stone

When you're able to connect with your instructors more, you can go and talk to them.

When your graduating class numbers 35 and your hometown has a population of around 1,700, entering college may seem like a gigantic leap. Such was the case for CCC-Grand Island graduate Courteney Zwiebel, who hails from Ainsworth. Seeing the large populations at the state universities and even some private institutions, she opted for the smaller setting of Central Community College before enrolling in a four-year school – a stepping stone, as she calls it.

"The classes were a little bit bigger than they were in high school, but not too big," said Zwiebel. "Also, when you're able to connect with your instructors more, you can go and talk to them. It wasn't as overwhelming as going to a four-year university where you have 100 to 300 in a class."

Something else that was different for Zwiebel was the diversity at CCC. Because of the variety of cultures in the Grand Island area, she said it was almost like being in a new world.

"But all of the interactions I had with everyone were very positive," said Zwiebel. "All of them were extremely willing to learn. It was exciting to hear all about their culture and all of the different ways they did things, too."

Culture was only part of the diversity equation that made an impact on Zwiebel. The other was the wide range of ages of the students. In particular, Zwiebel said she learned quite a bit from her older classmates, their experiences and why they were going to school.

"It was encouraging to see some of the more nontraditional (students) going to school, raising families and working," said Zwiebel. "I found that motivational for me. If they can do all that, then I can manage just going to school."

Zwiebel says she enjoyed all of her instructors at CCC, but she said one instructor stands out. Craig Ratzlaff taught an introduction to education class, which met once a week at night. It is not uncommon for students in such classes to wonder if they might lose interest, but Zwiebel said Ratzlaff did a good job of keeping things moving along.

"It was a three-hour class, but we were never bored," said Zwiebel. "We didn't dread going to the class. He always made it fun and exciting and it was just a good experience."

After graduating with an associate of arts degree in May 2016, Zwiebel transferred to Wayne State College where she is pursuing a degree in elementary education. Wayne State has a student population of about 3,700 and even though the campus is much bigger than CCC-Grand Island, Zwiebel still considers WSC relatively small. She says there are fewer nontraditional students and more traditional students. Another difference during her first semester was that she was not able to develop the same kind of relationships with her instructors because with more students, they are busier.

"Here it seems like there is a lot more going on," said Zwiebel. "There are way more clubs and organizations and then you have all of the different majors."

Eventually, Zwiebel would like to teach first or second grade, primarily because kids at that age enjoy school and want to learn. As for where she would like to teach, Zwiebel said she will most likely stay in Nebraska, but preferably in a school district larger than the one she attended in Ainsworth. Regardless of where she ends up teaching or what grade, Zwiebel will always be grateful for her experience at Central Community College, her stepping stone.

"I enjoyed it," said Zwiebel. "I met all kinds of people and was able to get involved in a lot of different things that helped me grow as a person and gain more knowledge."