NORFOLK, Neb. – Two Northeast Community College students have been named to the 2021 Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) All-Nebraska Academic Team.
Pauline Mphwiyo, Lilongwe, Malawi, and Erika Ramirez, West Point, have joined 21 other
all-state team members from five other community colleges in Nebraska in being recognized by PTK with the prestigious honor. The honorees are each presented Nebraska All-State Academic Team medallions and certificates.
The all-state academic team is sponsored by PTK – an international honor society for two-year colleges – and the Nebraska Community College Association, to honor students for academic achievement, leadership and service.
Mphwiyo is a criminal justice major. She said she suffered from anxiety and depression when she was in her early teens. Now, equipped with a better understanding of mental health through therapy, she is sharing her story so others may learn that help is available.
“I wanted to show people that having a mental illness doesn’t mean you’re crazy and getting help doesn’t make you weak,” she said. “Afterwards, I had a number of people reach out to me and share their story. … I addressed the elephant in the room and got people talking about mental health.”
Mphwiyo began an afterschool club during her senior year in high school where people were able to share their stories without fear of judgement. She said in attending Northeast Community College, she has been able to learn much more about mental health and how societies operate in a different culture.
“With the knowledge I have acquired, I have shared this information with the afterschool group and with my mother, who is a human rights activist who goes into the community to further educate people about the importance of mental health,” Mphwiyo said. “I have learned more about my mental illness and how I can manage it and not let it control my life. Education is the best way to break stigmatizations.”
Once she graduates from Northeast in May with an Associate of Arts degree in Criminal Justice - Corrections, Mphwiyo plans to transfer to Wayne State College to continue her education in criminal justice - corrections. She wants to become a lawyer.
Ramirez came to the United States five-years ago with just one dream – a dream to be successful. However, with only her mother and sister by her side for support, she still faced challenges in her education, partly due to her initial lack of being proficient in speaking English.
“There were a number of nights where I would stay up all night trying to complete an assignment,” she said. “Thankfully, with the help of teachers and family members, I gave it my all.”
Ramirez’s fears eventually passed and she came to realize that sacrifices are sometimes necessary to complete one’s goals.
“I am so thankful for all these challenges that have made me who I am today. I am proud of what I have achieved and what I have become. Without these challenges, I would not have had the opportunities that I have now, such as being an honor student and being able to represent the first generation of my family to attend college.”
Ramirez will graduate from Northeast with an Associate of Arts degree and a Certificate - Community Healthcare Worker. She plans to transfer to Wayne State College to further her education to eventually become a dentist.
Phi Theta Kappa introduced state academic teams in 1994 as a way to provide scholastic recognition to members, while promoting excellence at two-year colleges. The state academic teams are a division of the Academic All-American Team for Community, Technical and Junior College students, an international program sponsored annually by Phi Theta Kappa, USA TODAY and the American Association of Community Colleges.
In recent years, more than 800 of the country’s finest community college students competed for recognition, sponsors on the national team and cash stipends.
Northeast Phi Theta Kappa sponsors are Colleen Barnes, criminal justice/sociology instructor and Andrea Suhr, physical therapist assistant instructor.
PHOTO IDs: Pauline Mphwiyo (left) and Erika Ramirez.