Wayne State College

Outstanding Alumni Awards

Past Recipients

View previous recipients of the Outstanding Alumni Award.

2019 Recipients

School of Arts and Humanities - Corinne E. Morris '84, MAE '93

Corinne MorrisCorinne (George) Morris graduated from Wayne State College in 1984 with a bachelor’s degree in theatre and home economics. She earned her Master of Arts in Education degree from WSC in 1993 with an emphasis in communication. She earned a post-graduate certificate in community college leadership from UNL in 2012. While studying at WSC as an undergrad, Morris was very active in theatre and played several major roles in WSC productions. She also competed in intercollegiate forensics, winning awards at state and national tournaments. As a graduate, she traveled frequently with the WSC forensics team as a tournament judge. Morris served as an adjunct communication instructor and forensics coach at WSC from 1993 to 1996. 

On the side, Morris started her own business, Corinne’s Costumes and Custom Sewing, and has kept it going since 1989. She has costumed many plays for area high schools and community theatre productions. She has also directed plays for community theatre groups in both Wayne and Norfolk.

Morris has worked for Northeast Community College since 1996. She started as a speech instructor/forensics coach, moving into an assessment coordinator role and then into an associate dean position. She currently serves as the Dean of Agriculture, Math, and Science for the college.

Morris credits her success to her support system, starting with her mother, Mary Lou George, who inspired her to go to college in the first place and has been there for her at every turn.

“At 18, you just don’t know all the ways your education will serve you, but Mom knew, and she’s encouraged me all along the way,” Morris said. “I’m so thankful for the wonderful education I received at Wayne State College. It has made all the difference in my life. I’ve had the privilege to work with so many wonderful people through the years. I feel very honored to receive this award. I’ve been so blessed to have the support of my husband, my family, and my friends. That’s what makes it all possible.”

School of Business and Technology - JR Rother '06

JR RotherJR (Roland) Rother graduated from Wayne State College with a bachelor’s degree in computer information systems and minors in business administration and computer science in 2006. He was also a member of the football team and the Student Athlete Advisory Council. 

While studying at WSC, Rother held internships with First National Bank of Omaha. After graduation, he moved to Omaha and continued his professional career with the same company, holding several positions. 

Rother has worked for Bosselman Enterprises for the past eight years and is currently the director of information systems. He also serves on the WSC CTIS Advisory Board and as the board chairman for the Central and Western Nebraska chapter of the American Red Cross. He and his wife Jenny, also a graduate of WSC, live in Grand Island, Neb., with their three children.

School of Education and Counseling - Lisa Allen Fricke '73

Lisa FrickeLisa Fricke has dedicated 36 years to teaching in Nebraska public schools. Currently, she is serving her second year of her four-year term on the State Board of Education, District 2, which includes most of Sarpy County and a large portion of Douglas County.  

Fricke graduated from Bellevue East High School, student-taught in Bellevue, and graduated from Wayne State College in 1973. During her career, she served as a master teacher mentor for the Intergenerational Mentoring Program and helped develop state assessments for reading, writing, and special education math. She was also a gubernatorial appointee to the Special Education Accountability Commission for three years, and a mentor for Coach Tom and Nancy Osborne’s Teammates Program. Fricke has also served on several School Improvement External Visitation Teams.

Fricke grew up in a military family where her father served in the U.S. Air Force for 30 years. Because of her father’s dedicated service and her mother’s support of her military family, Fricke is a strong advocate for veterans and their families.

Fricke and her husband, David, have three children, Jason, Ryan, and Erica. Erica is married to Captain Stephen Velasquez, and they have blessed Fricke with three precious grandchildren, Xander, Ari, and Cohen.

The best advice Lisa was given at the beginning of her teaching career was, “Teach your students the way you would want your own children to be taught.” She kept this advice at the heart of her teaching for 36 years. David and Lisa are both retired and live in Millard.

School of Natural and Social Sciences - Dr. Ron Holt '89

Ron HoltDr. Ron Holt ’89 is a board-certified psychiatrist, author, and international speaker.

Holt’s annual Wayne State College community service began in 2000 when he began returning to campus during Homecoming week as a volunteer speaker to educate students and staff on LGBT issues and civil rights.

In 2008, Holt expanded his presentations nationally to include LGBTQ+ health care, the consequences of bullying, and suicide risk reduction. He has presented to more than 10,000 students and more than 1,200 physicians across more than 300 audiences throughout the United States and beyond.

In 2014, Holt created the annual Civic Engagement Award on campus, which recognizes a graduating WSC senior who has served as an exemplary role model and contributed to the service ethos of the college campus and community at large.

In December 2016, Holt released his first book on Amazon entitled “PRIDE: You Can’t Heal if You’re Hiding From Yourself.” In 2017, he and his husband, Dr. William Huggett ’86, released their first LGBTQ-themed coloring book. Since then they have published several coloring books supporting both LGBTQ people as well as helping physicians with stress reduction through meditation and coloring.

In March 2017, Holt left his corporate medicine job to further his community service and devote more time to writing.

He has received several awards across the country for his community service and commitment to diversity, including being a recipient of Wayne State College’s 2004 Alumni Service Award, the 2012 Alumni Achievement Award, and the 2017 Diversity Award. In the late 2000s, Holt received his employer’s two highest awards for community service and diversity achievement, making him the first physician within this national health care organization to receive both awards in the individual category.

In May 2019, he was elected to Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, which is the highest honor the APA can bestow upon a member.

In addition to being a trustee of the Wayne State Foundation, Holt currently practices as a student health physician at San Francisco State University. He has created numerous endowed scholarships at Wayne State College and began his first annual scholarship while a WSC senior.

2018 Recipients

School of Arts and Humanities - Odell Santos '99, MSE '02, MSE '05

Odell SantosOdell Santos has taken his passion for education and sports to assist in empowering and motivating the next generation of Nebraska citizens. After completion of his bachelor’s degree in education at Wayne State in 1999, he began his career in education as the interim director of multicultural affairs and the distance learning Spanish instructor at Wayne State College. He continued to pursue his double master’s degrees in sports administration and secondary administration with Wayne State during this time. 

Upon completion of his master’s programs, Santos and his wife, Sarah (Wuebben) ‘03, moved to California where he worked with the Tulare County Office of Education and Lindsay Unified School District as a prevention coordinator and outreach consultant. 

After several years in California, they decided Nebraska was where they wanted to raise their children. Santos embraced his passion of sports as assistant athletic director at North Star High School in Lincoln and easily moved into the role of athletic director a couple of years later after one of his mentors, Craig Jacobson, retired. 

When the opportunity to step into the principal position at South Sioux City High School was presented, Santos welcomed the move as a way to continue to develop as a leader in education. After three years, his love and passion to inspire student-athletes has come full circle as he is currently serving as the athletic director at SSC. The Santoses currently reside in the community of South Sioux City with their two children, Jonah, 10, and Jocelyn, 9.

School of Business and Technology - Shawn D. Strong '96, MBA '97

Shawn StrongShawn D. Strong, Ph.D., graduated from Wayne State in both 1996 and 1997, first with his bachelor’s degree in industrial management and a year later with his MBA. While attending Wayne State, he worked at Heritage Homes and Industries in maintenance, utilizing his technical degree from Northwest Iowa Community College. 

While Strong was working on his Ph.D. at Iowa State, his wife, Amy (a WSC alumna), worked for Norfolk Public Schools. Strong worked at Missouri State University from 1999-2012, eventually becoming a tenured full professor and department head of Technology and Construction Management. In 2013, he accepted the position of dean of business at Bemidji State University/Northwest Technical College, a position he held until accepting his current positon. He is beginning his third year as president of the State Technical College of Missouri (State Tech) in Linn, Mo.  

“WSC had and still has some of the very faculty who were instrumental in helping me successfully get through my undergraduate education,” Strong said. “Dr. Don Cattle, who I remember well, recruited both Amy and me. Greg VanderWeil served as my advisor even after I decided I wasn’t going to be a secondary educator. Don Buryanek, who I still consider a mentor as an outstanding technical educator. Dr. John Renzelman, who I suspect pulled some strings to get me into my Ph.D. program. Without their influence, I am confident I would not be a college president today.” 

School of Education and Counseling - Jay Bellar '83

Jay BellarJay Bellar is a native of Walthill, Neb., and a graduate of Walthill High School, located on the Omaha Indian Reservation in Northeast Nebraska. He is the middle son of John and Delores Bellar. His father was employed as a minister and his mother a paraprofessional for the school. 

As a student, Bellar was surrounded by a diverse group of peers, which later in life would benefit him as an educator. He earned his bachelor of education degree in 1983 from Wayne State College while playing both football and basketball. His advanced degrees, a master’s and a specialist degree in administration, are from the University of Nebraska-Kearney.   

Bellar started his teaching career at Trenton, Neb., where he was the physical education and driver’s education teacher and a coach. He then moved to Johnson-Brock Public Schools in Johnson, Neb., where he taught, coached, and later became principal and athletic director. After Johnson-Brock, he crossed into Iowa for seven years, where he was middle school principal, head football coach, and athletic director for Tri-Center Schools in Neola, Iowa. For the past 20 years, Bellar has served as the superintendent of schools for Battle Creek Public Schools in Battle Creek, Neb.  

Bellar will now go on to serve the State of Nebraska as the executive director of the Nebraska Schools Activities Association (NSAA) in Lincoln. Bellar has served 11 years on the board of directors for the NSAA.   

Bellar has had a successful career in education with some major accomplishments. He was named Iowa Middle School Principal of the Year and appointed by the governor of Nebraska to serve six years on the Professional Practice Commission for the state. He was the 2010 recipient of the UNK Education in Leadership Award, also known as the UNKLES Award. He served two one-year terms as chairman of the board for the NSAA. He was instrumental along with other community members in passing a bond issue to build a new junior and senior high school for Battle Creek. Bellar was the recipient of the Region III Nebraska Association of School Administrators Honor Award. He was named the 2015 AASA Superintendent of the Year for Nebraska and was also a finalist for the national superintendent of the year. In 2016 he was voted as superintendent of the year by the superintendent association and in 2018 was named superintendent of the year by the Nebraska Rural Community Schools Association.    

Bellar is married with twin boys, Jared and Zachary, who are currently attending Wayne State College. His wife, Lori, earned her master’s degree in counseling from Wayne State College in 2001.  

School of Natural and Social Sciences - Miles D. Brey '85

Miles BreyMiles Brey retired from the United States Secret Service in 2016 after serving for 26 years. Following the completion of two federal law enforcement training academies in 1990, Brey was assigned to the White House. In 1993, he began an assignment in the Special Operations Section. The SOS office specializes in coordinating and securing all of the social and political events associated with the president’s White House schedule. In 1997, he was promoted to a front line supervisory position and remained at the White House. In the late 1990’s, Brey also began conducting protective advances. These security advances required travel and detailed logistical planning several days ahead of a presidential visit. Throughout his career, Brey has conducted protective missions on six continents and nearly every state in America. He has also served as a protective motorcade driver in both the U.S. and abroad. Brey was transferred to the Service’s training academy for five years before finishing his final eight years as a White House West Wing and Executive Mansion supervisor.

Brey graduated from Wayne State in 1985 with a bachelor’s degree in geographic studies and a minor in history. He regards his college years as some of the most meaningful of his life. More specifically, he credits his lasting friendships as his greatest memories of his four years at Wayne State. While at Wayne, Brey served as a resident assistant in Morey Hall under the loving oversight and direction of dorm director Roberta “Mom” Welte. He also credits social science professors Robert Foote and Dr. Don Hickey for instilling in him a greater understanding of United States history and geographic ideas and considerations. Numerous courses in writing and public speaking have helped him throughout his career and life.

Brey’s retirement didn’t last long. In 2016, he joined the Lionheart International Services Group consulting team and was rehired as a Secret Service law enforcement training instructor in 2017.

Brey and his wife, Beth, are in their 30th year of marriage and have raised three sons and one daughter. They reside in New Windsor, Md., and are active members in their local church. Brey serves as a board member for the Carroll County Fellowship of Christian Athletes, a ministry he participated in at Wayne State throughout his college years.

2017 Recipients

School of Arts and Humanities - Merle Larson '59

Merle LarsonMerle Larson grew up in Wausa, Neb., and graduated high school in 1955. He received his bachelor’s degree in music education from Wayne State College in 1959 and his master’s in music education from the University of Northern Colorado in 1963. He began his career in 1959 teaching grades 4 through 12 music in Moorhead, Iowa. He also taught junior high band in Mitchell, S.D., and band and vocal music in Neligh, Neb. The final chapter of his career brought him to Yankton Public Schools in Yankton, S.D., where he taught high school band from 1966 to 1992 and middle school band from 1992 to 1999. He also served as the school’s department chairman from 1979 to 1999.

Larson was inducted into the Yankton High School Fine Arts Hall of Fame in 2004 and was named South Dakota Teacher of the Year in 1978. That same year, he was also named Yankton Teacher of the Year. Larson was named Music Educator of the Year by the National Federation of Interscholastic Music Association in 1991 and received the organization’s Regional Outstanding Music Educator Award in 1992, which is presented to one teacher in a six-state area. He received Phi Beta Mu’s Distinguished Service Award in 1994 and was named South Dakota Outstanding Band Director of the Year by Phi Beta Mu in 1989. Larson was also given the Outstanding Music Educator Award at the 1986 World of Music Festival in Dallas.

Larson served as president of the South Dakota Music Educators Association (SDMEA) from 1985 to 1987 and the South Dakota Band Director’s Association from 1983 to 1985 after serving as a board member and vice president. He was also president of the Phi Beta Mu Music Fraternity from 1978 to 1979 and president of the Yankton Education Association from 1977 to 1978. He was the state band chairman for SDMEA from 1974 to 1976. 

Larson has been active in the music community directing bands and choirs, representing South Dakota at regional and national music conferences, and serving as an adjudicator for concert band, marching band, solos, and small group contests. He has also been a leader in his community through Shrine Club, United Methodist Church, Yankton Public Forum, Yankton Area Community Concert Association, and other organizations.

Larson and his wife, Virginia Larson ’60, live in Yankton and are both retired. They have three children: a son, Brad Larson, of Boston; a daughter, Julie Mudry, of Fort Worth, Texas; and another daughter, Jill Larson, of Yankton. 

School of Business and Technology - Danelle Smith '98

Danelle SmithDanelle Smith is a partner with the law firm of Fredericks Peebles & Morgan LLP. She practices primarily in the area of tribal and federal Indian law, with an emphasis in governmental affairs and economic development. She currently serves as general counsel to the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska and its subdivisions, including Ho-Chunk, Inc., the tribe’s economic development corporation. Smith has extensive experience in a broad range of tribal governance and tribal economic development matters, including financing, gaming, real estate, employment, and intergovernmental relations. She also works with tribal constitution and enrollment issues, tribal court administration, and ordinance and code drafting. Additionally, Smith is experienced in advising non-profit organizations, schools, and community colleges.  

Smith has been active in her community and currently serves on the board of directors for the Ho-Chunk Community Development Corporation. She has also served on the boards of directors for the Nebraska Justice Center, Legal Aid of Nebraska, and the Ho-Chunk Community Development Fund. She teaches business and legal classes at Little Priest Tribal College, has served as a member of the Nebraska State Bar Association’s Volunteer Lawyers Project Committee, and was elected to a four-year term on the Thurston County board of supervisors. Smith was previously named as one of the “Native American 40 Under 40” award recipients by the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development (NCAIED) and is an alumna of the Americans for Indian Opportunity (AIO) Ambassadors Program. 

Smith is admitted to practice in the State of Nebraska, the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska, the Winnebago Tribal Court, and the Ponca Tribal Court. Smith obtained her Juris Doctorate from the University of Iowa and a bachelor of science degree in business administration with an emphasis in human resource management from Wayne State College in 1998. She is a member of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska.

School of Education and Counseling - Dr. Bob Uhing, MSE '86, MSE '88, Ed.S. '91

Bob UhingBob Uhing earned a master of science in education in 1986, a master in special education in 1988, and an education specialist degree in 1991 from Wayne State College. He received his doctorate in educational administration from the University of South Dakota. Uhing was hired in 1997 by Educational Service Unit No. 1 (ESU 1) as the special education director and three years later was named assistant administrator. For the past 13 years, he has been the head administrator of ESU 1. Prior educational experience includes 13 years of working as a teacher, coach, and administrator at Wayne Public Schools. He served as president of the Nebraska Association of Special Education Supervisors in 2003. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Award in 2011 by the Nebraska Council of School Administrators and in 2016 was named Region III Superintendent of the Year. Uhing and his wife, Marlene, a graduate from Wayne State College, have a son, Brad, daughter-in-law, Molly, and four grandchildren.

School of Natural and Social Sciences - Diane Sabatka-Rine '84

Diane Sabatka-RineDiane (Bonow) Sabatka-Rine is the deputy director of the operations division for the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services (NDCS). She started her career as a corrections officer with NDCS more than three decades ago and has held a variety of positions within the agency. She was appointed to serve as warden at the Diagnostic and Evaluation Center in 2003 and later at the Lincoln Correctional Center. 

Sabatka-Rine was the first female appointed as warden of the Nebraska State Penitentiary in 2011, which opened in 1870. She enjoys working with “some of the most incredible corrections professionals in the business” and the day-to-day challenges overseeing the operations and management of five prisons incarcerating more than 4,000 individuals.

“Success in this business is a team effort; it’s not an individual accomplishment,” Sabatka-Rine said. “Our employees do extraordinary things every day, and it is truly an honor to work with people of that caliber.”

Sabatka-Rine grew up in rural Nebraska and graduated from Wahoo Public High School. She earned a bachelor of science in criminal justice with a minor in sociology from Wayne State College in 1984. She and her husband are actively involved in their church. Her greatest accomplishment is found in the man her son has grown to be. Her love for her work is secondary to the gratification she receives as a wife, mother, mother-in-law, daughter, sister, and aunt.

2016 Recipients

School of Arts and Humanities - Herb Mignery, Industrial Arts Major from 1955 to 1959

Herb MigneryHerb Mignery attended Wayne State College from 1955 to 1959 as an industrial arts major after growing up on a ranch in Wheeler County near Bartlett, Neb.

Mignery is a well-known sculptor whose subject matter often depicts the difficult lives of people of the West, since he believes our attitudes and views of the future can only be determined by examining our ancestors. Details and accouterments in his sculptures tell viewers about the subjects, their professions, and their lives, so that each piece reflects the story of life in the West. One of Mignery’s bronze sculptures, a female and male student and park bench, can be found on WSC’s campus east of Conn Library.

Mignery has won numerous awards, including Best of Show and the Western Art Associates Kieckhefer Award, as well as gold and silver medals in sculpture at the Cowboy Artists of America Show in Phoenix, the Norris Foundation Award at the Autry Museum in Los Angeles, and the Leonard J. Meiselman Memorial Award for sculpture at the National Sculpture Society in New York. 

Other honors include the installation of The Hungry Loop Monument at Brookgreen Gardens in Pawleys Island, S.C., and commissions to sculpt Prince Albert of Monaco and Buffalo Bill for Monaco, the Pioneer Award for the Academy of Country Music (Dick Clark Productions) in Los Angeles, and a life-size bust of President Gerald Ford for Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater in Vail, Colo. 

Mignery and his wife, Sherry, maintain his sculpture studio in Loveland, Colo., which he opened in 1975. They have two children, Chantal Mignery Watkins and her husband Lonnie, and Sky Mignery and her friend Dave Zader. They also have two grandchildren, Jackson and Jake Watkins.

School of Business and Technology - Brian W. Elliott, BA '77, MSE '79

Brian ElliottBrian W. Elliott graduated cum laude from Wayne State College in 1977 with a Bachelor of Arts in Industrial Technology Education. He received his Master of Science in Education from WSC in 1979.

Elliott retired in 2011 and had a distinguished career as an automotive instructor at the high school and college levels. He prepared his students for competitions at the regional, state, and national levels, winning 50 state and regional championships as well as high rankings at the national level. 

The competitions include the following:

  • State and National Skills/USA Competition
  • Trouble-Shooting Contests in Plymouth/AAA, Chrysler/AAA and Ford/AAA
  • Joe Gibbs/Universal Technical Institute 
  • Engine Teardown Pit Crew Competitions

Throughout his teaching career, Elliott also received major awards, including:

  • Illinois Automotive Teacher of the Year, sponsored by Valvoline Oil Company (1989)
  • Most Inspirational Teacher Award from Western Illinois University (1999)
  • Lake Park Illinois High School Distinguished Alumni Award (2004)

Elliott is a member of American Legion Post 1084 in Roselle, Ill., and a member of Sons of the American Legion. This membership is in recognition of his father, who served as part of a B-24 Bomber Squadron in the Philippines and was a WWII Army/Air Corp Veteran. 

School of Education and Counseling - Matthew Blomenkamp, MSE '02, Ed.S. '09

Matthew BlomenkampMatthew Blomenkamp earned a Master of Science in Education in 2002 and an Education Specialist degree in 2009 from Wayne State College. He also has an assessment endorsement from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and a doctorate in Educational Administration from University of Nebraska at Omaha. He received his undergraduate degree from Midland Lutheran College in 1999.

Blomenkamp is the junior and senior high school principal at Bennington Public Schools in Bennington, Neb., a position he has held for the past three years. Blomenkamp has also spent time as an assistant principal at Millard North High School, an activities director at Bellevue East High School and McCool Junction High School, and a behavior disorders director at ESU No. 1 in Wayne. During the past 15 years, Blomenkamp has taught physical education, business, and special education, as well as coached both junior high and high school athletics. 

Blomenkamp is married with two children: Isaac, 8, and Allison, 6. His wife, Sarah, attended Creighton University and earned a doctorate in Physical Therapy from UNMC. She works in Bellevue as a physical therapist at Hillcrest Rehabilitation. 

School of Natural and Social Sciences - Keith M. Olsen, BS '77

Keith M. OlsenDr. Keith M. Olsen, Pharm.D., is a native of Laurel, Neb., and graduate of Laurel High School. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry, graduating cum laude in 1977 from Wayne State College, and a Doctor of Pharmacy and residency certificate at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. He is the dean and professor of pharmacy in the College of Pharmacy, as well as a critical care specialist at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, Ark.

Olsen is recognized as a fellow of both the American College of Clinical Pharmacy and American College of Critical Care Medicine. Graduating doctor of pharmacy classes have recognized him as Teacher of the Year three times. He has published more than 300 peer-reviewed publications, abstracts and book chapters in the areas of critical care pharmacotherapy and infectious diseases. 

Olsen and his wife, Theresa, have five children and seven grandchildren.

2015 Recipients

School of Arts and Humanities - Christa (Habrock) Dutcher, BA ’04, MBA ’05 and BS ’07

Christa DutcherChrista graduated from WSC in 2004 with a degree in Spanish and business management. She then continued her studies at WSC as a graduate assistant while attaining an MBA. Later, while working as an adjunct at WSC, she decided to pursue a degree in education. Christa currently lives in Wayne and has been teaching Spanish at Wayne High School for eight years. While at Wayne High, she has taught dual credit courses through WSC, started a chapter of Sociedad Honoraria Hispánica (Spanish Honor Society), served as Spanish Club sponsor and has been an assistant track coach.

School of Business and Technology - Kent Riesberg, BA ’80

Kent RiesbergKent Riesberg graduated from WSC with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration and was hired at Mutual of Omaha in the Internal Audit Division. He later transferred to the Information Technology division and has worked on major projects for over 30 years. Riesberg has been heavily involved in community work including Boy Scouts of America, working at a local food pantry, volunteering at a dementia unit, and working with his church’s teen program. Riesberg and his wife Karen (Dec 80) have three children, two of whom are graduates of WSC.

School of Education and Counseling - Julia (Lorenz) Cook, MSE ’04

Julia CookJulia Cook was born and raised in Salt Lake City Utah. While living in Utah, she became actively involved in teaching children how to ski. That experience led to a love of teaching in general. She completed her bachelor’s degree in education at the University of Utah, moved to Fremont Nebraska, and earned the master’s degree in Elementary School Counseling at Wayne State College. While serving as a guidance counselor, Julia often used children’s books to enhance her classroom lessons. She is now nationally recognized as an award-winning children’s book author and parenting expert. Julia has presented in more than 800 schools across the country, regularly delivers keynote addresses at education and counseling conferences, and has published more than three dozen children’s books. The goal behind all of Julia’s books and efforts is to actively involve young people into her fun and creative stories and teach them to become life-long problem solvers.

School of Natural and Social Sciences - Connie (Depperman) Petersen, BA ’99

Connie PetersenDr. Petersen began her 20-year history of working in the mental health and addiction fields at R-Way in Wayne, NE. While pursuing her undergraduate degree through Wayne State College, she both worked at and later managed the Kirkwood House facility before later becoming a Community Support Provider for R-Way. She went on to pursue her doctoral degree through Wichita State University in Wichita, Kansas in 2001. While pursuing her degree, Dr. Petersen worked as a Case Manager and later a master’s level therapist at South Central Mental Health Counseling Center in El Dorado & Andover, Kansas. She moved to Jackson, Mississippi in 2005 to complete her pre-doctoral internship at the Mississippi State Hospital in Whitfield, MS. After completing her internship at the state hospital, she pursued a career with COPAC (a long-term drug and alcohol treatment center) in Brandon, MS. Dr. Petersen completed her doctoral degree in Community-Clinical Psychology in 2007.

Dr. Petersen and her family then made the decision to move back to the area. In 2007, Dr. Petersen began her career with Behavioral Health Specialists, Inc., in Norfolk, Neb., as the Director of Outpatient Clinical Services. Since that time, she has secured additional training as Mental Health First Aid instructor and has found great pleasure in providing the knowledge and skills from this training with the hope that others will pass on the message to our communities. Currently, in addition to maintaining her Director position in the Outpatient Department of Behavioral Health Specialists, Inc., she also serves as the Interim Director at Sunrise Place (a short-term residential drug and alcohol treatment center) in Norfolk, NE. Dr. Petersen has an amazing husband, Jeff, who has supported her throughout her career and four wonderful children, Lucas (7), Riley (5), Tate (3), and Dagney (4 months). 

2014 Recipients 

School of Arts and Humanities - David F. Whitt ’89

Dave WhittWhitt graduated from WSC with a bachelor’s degree. He majored in speech communication with an emphasis in organizational leadership and public relations. While studying at WSC, he was a member of Sigma Tau Gamma, and he won several championships at the Nebraska Intercollegiate Forensics Association Tournament. He also qualified for the Interstate Oratory Association Tournament, wrote for the Wayne Stater, and participated in several WSC theater productions. Whitt has co-edited and contributed to three books on comparative mythology, and has given international presentations in Greece, Taiwan, and Australia. He was the first American to judge at a high school film festival in Croatia. Whitt has designed a public speaking mentoring program between Nebraska Wesleyan University and Dawes Middle School in Lincoln. He is a professor of Communication Studies at Nebraska Wesleyan University and serves as the Department Chair of Communication Studies.

School of Business and Technology - Ronita Carlson Jacobsen ’94, MSE ’98

Ronita JacobsenJacobsen graduated from WSC with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in family and consumer sciences. She began her teaching career at Ponca High School in 1994, followed by two years at Pierce High School. She began teaching in Plainview within the family and consumer science program in 1999. Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS) Teachers of Nebraska named her FCS Teacher of the Year in 2010. The Association for Career and Technical Education of Nebraska (ACTEN) named Jacobsen the Outstanding Career and Technical Education Teacher of the Year and the ACTEN Family and Consumer Sciences Teacher of the Year in 2011. She has served as president for Family and Consumer Sciences Teachers of Nebraska and ACTEN. She continues her FCS teaching career at Plainview High School.

School of Education and Counseling - Maria (Mandel) Goede, MAE ’99

Maria GoedeGoede graduated from WSC with a master’s degree in counseling. She was born in Colombia, South America, and came to the United States with her family at the age of 4. She was raised in Miami, Fla., and moved to Omaha where she earned a bachelor’s degree in business management and worked as a business manager. Goede moved to Norfolk in 1992 and worked as a business manager for a community mental health clinic and while employed as a child protection safety worker she decided to enroll at WSC to earn her master’s degree. She has given numerous presentations, ranging from the effects of domestic violence on children to best parenting practices, cultural diversity, and assertive communication. Goede has been in private practice in Norfolk and, for the past four years, in West Point.

School of Natural and Social Sciences - Edward V. Stansberry ’98, MSE ’02, Ed Specialist ’05

Ed StansberryStansberry has earned a bachelor’s degree in health and physical education, a master’s degree for K-12 Education Administration and an Education Specialist degree from WSC. As a part of the Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning research committee, he has been instrumental in developing a data workbook for schools to utilize in their school improvement process. Stansberry serves as the Nebraska representative for the National Association of Impacted Schools. He says he and his staff believe family is the most important part of life and education and children learn best when they become part of your family. He feels all decisions should be made on what is best for the student and credits the staff who modeled this belief while he was enrolled at WSC. Stansberry is in his seventh year as the superintendent at Walthill Public School.

2013 Recipients 

School of Arts and Humanities - Jeffrey Child '02

Jeffrey ChildChild received a degree in speech communications with minors in mathematics and computer science from WSC. He completed his doctoral studies and earned a Ph.D. from North Dakota State University in 2007. That same year the communication department at NDSU honored him as the Outstanding Doctoral Student of the Year. He joined the faculty at Kent State University in August 2007 and serves as the undergraduate coordinator for the School of Communication Studies. Child is a lifetime member of the National Communication Association, the International Communication Association, the Eastern Communication Association and the Central States Communication Association. He has served in leadership capacities for these organizations and has delivered more than 40 research paper presentations in conjunction with the conventions of these associations.

School of Education and Counseling - Greg Adams '74, MSE '75

Greg AdamsAdams graduated from WSC earning bachelor and master's degrees in education. He was employed as a teacher of American government and economics at York Public Schools from 1976 to 2004. He was the recipient of numerous awards during his 31-year teaching career. Adams was appointed by the governor in 1997 and again in 2000 to the Nebraska Information Technology Commission. He served as a member of the York City Council from 1986 to 1996 and performed the duties of Mayor of the City of York from 1996 to 2006. Adams left his classroom in 2006 and entered the Nebraska Legislature. He serves as Speaker of the Nebraska Legislature.

School of Business and Technology - Duane Polodna '80

Duane PolodnaPolodna graduated from WSC earning a bachelor degree with accounting emphasis. After graduation he worked in the audit and tax departments at Arthur Young and Company, Omaha. He was granted a designation of Certified Public Accountant in 1982. After four years with Arthur Young and Company, he accepted a position with U. S. West Communications. He left U.S. West in 1995 to work as the corporate accounting manager at the Omaha World-Herald Company. After a series of promotions, Polodna was named vice-president and treasurer of the company in 2002 and appointed to its Board of Directors. Polodna serves as senior vice president and chief financial officer of BH Media Group, which owns and manages the Omaha World-Herald. BH Media Group is a wholly owned subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway.

School of Natural and Social Sciences - Wayne Mollhoff '74

Wayne MollhoffMollhoff graduated from WSC with a bachelor of science degree. He joined the Army in 1965 and served on active duty for 10 years. Mollhoff joined the Army Reserve for several years, and spent another six years on active duty before retiring to the reserves for more than two decades. A retired lieutenant colonel he volunteers much of his spare time gathering information on birds in the state. Mollhoff began surveying birds in 1984 and coordinated the first Nebraska Breeding Bird Atlas Project, which he wrote and had published by the Nebraska Game and Park Commission. Mollhoff is a member of three archaeology professional organizations and has been involved in digs. He has donated collections of mammal specimens along with other reptile, insect and plant specimens to WSC and University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

2012 Recipients

School of Arts and Humanities - Brad Weber ’77

Brad WeberBrad received a degree in music education from WSC. In 1992, he earned a master’s degree in music from the University of Wyoming. He began his instrumental music career in the Emerson-Hubbard schools in 1977 and has taught instrumental music in the Wayne Community Schools since 1986. Brad has served as an adjunct instructor of music at WSC since 1984. Throughout his career, Brad’s strongest interest has been that of teaching and providing exceptional musical experiences for all interested students at all levels of talent. He began in 1977 and continues to serve as a very active adjudicator and clinician throughout Nebraska, Iowa, and South Dakota. Brad and his wife Deb (who is employed at WSC in the Counseling Center) are parents to three grown daughters.

School of Business and Technology - Rowan Wiltse ’83, MSE ’86

Rowan WiltseRowan is a lifelong resident of Wayne. He attended WSC for two years prior to graduating from Worsham College of Mortuary Science in 1955. For many years he was associated with his grandfather and father in the funeral business. Rowan was the recipient of the Nebraska Funeral Directors Hero’s Award for saving a life. Rowan returned to WSC earning a degree in industrial education in 1983. He continued at WSC as a graduate assistant while attaining a master’s degree in industrial technology in 1986. He was an adjunct instructor in applied science at WSC and became director of Cooperative Education, a position he held until his retirement in 1997. Rowan and his wife, Twila (Heier, WSC ’67) are parents to two grown children.

School of Education and Counseling - ReNae Kehrberg ’81

Renae KehrbergReNae graduated from WSC earning a degree in education. She received a master’s from UN-O and a doctorate from UNL. She is currently the assistant superintendent for the department of Curriculum and Learning in the Omaha Public Schools. She is at the helm of the district action plan to raise student achievement for 85 schools. She started her career in art and social studies classrooms as a teacher for the Omaha Public Schools. Prior to her present position, ReNae served as an award winning and nationally recognized Principal at the Alice Buffett Magnet Middle School, Omaha. In 2010, she was awarded the Region VII Midwest Principal of the Year Award and her school was cited as one of the top 15 in the nation based on the school’s standardized middle grade assessment scores.

School of Natural and Social Sciences - Joseph Wall ’04

Joseph WallJoe graduated from WSC earning a degree in political science. He currently serves as vice president in the Office of Government Affairs. He joined Goldman Sachs in February 2010. Prior to joining the firm, Joe was senior director of federal government relations at the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America. Previously, he served as deputy assistant to Vice President Dick Cheney for legislative affairs, as assistant national field director on the 2008 Romney for President campaign and as floor assistant for Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO) in the Office of the Majority Whip of the U.S. House of Representatives. Joe was a four-year letterman in baseball at WSC. He resides in Arlington, Va.

2011 Recipients

School of Arts and Humanities - Pearl Hansen '71

Pearl HansenPearl received a bachelor’s degree in art from WSC and taught K-12 in Brisbane, Australia following graduation. She spent a period of time backpacking before returning to study at Kansas State University where she received her M.A. in sculpture and art history. She furthered her studies at University of Nebraska, Lincoln where she received her Ph.D. with research interests in the area of art hazards. She was appointed to the position of Admiral in the Nebraska Navy, a state service award, for her services in the area of art hazards. In addition to teaching at WSC she has also served as the Division Head of Fine Arts and Department Chair for the Department of Art and Design.

School of Business and Technology - Daniel Allen '96

Daniel AllenDaniel graduated from WSC earning a degree in Computer Information Systems and Business Administration. While a student at Wayne State College, Dan completed a cooperative education experience with First National Bank of Omaha at locations in Omaha and Wayne. Following graduation he was hired at First National Bank of Omaha and has held several positions with the organization currently holding the title of Technology Officer for First National Information Technology in the National Business - Servicing Department. Dan serves as the First National liaison to the WSC Computer Technology and Information Systems Department and is also a member of the CTIS Advisory Board. Dan, his wife Michelle, and their daughter Joelle reside in Omaha.

School of Education and Counseling - Jaim Foster '00

Jaim FosterJaim graduated from WSC earning a degree in elementary education. He has taught for ten years, currently teaching first grade in Arlington, Virginia. His teaching career started in Omaha at Millard Public Schools. It was in Omaha in 2001 when Jaim developed a passion for training teachers and future teachers and has become a national trainer. Jaim is a member of the National Education Association currently serving as the elected NEA Mid-Atlantic Caucus Director, NEA Mid-Atlantic Hispanic Caucus Director and serves on the VEA Women and Minority Concerns Committee. Jaim was invited to attend the 2011 Bullying Prevention Conference at The White House where he met with the President and First Lady in the Oval Office to discuss his work on bullying prevention in public schools.

School of Natural and Social Sciences - Amy Gross '89

Amy GrossAmy graduated from WSC earning a degree in psychology/sociology/human services counseling. After earning master’s and doctorate degrees in industrial/organizational psychology at Kansas State University, she worked with the Strategy and Process Planning team at Ford Motor Company in Michigan. In 1997 Amy joined the IDEA Center in Manhattan, Kansas as their associate director working on program assessment for Kansas State University. When the Center became a non-profit organization in 2001, Amy became the vice president for integrative client services and now serves as vice president for knowledge management and special projects. She is actively involved in her community, serves on various committees at the Amanda Arnold Elementary School, and is a member of the Kansas State University Psychology Department Advisory Council.