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Northeast graduate wants to share her love of education with others as elementary school teacher

Northeast graduate wants to share her love of education with others as elementary school teacher

NORFOLK, Neb. – From a young girl, Ashley Pena has always had a passion to pursue her education. Now the Northeast Community College graduate is inspired to guide others in their educational journey.

“I have always enjoyed being around children, and I want to use my skills of being bilingual to foster their learning and growth,” said the recent Northeast Community College elementary education graduate.  

Pena, who graduated with an Associate of Arts degree with a concentration in Elementary Education from Northeast in May, plans to transfer to the University of Nebraska at Kearney where she will pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education with an emphasis in English as a Second Language (ESL). 

Pena, Norfolk, counts her three younger siblings among the supporters who have served as an inspirational source in her achievements.

“I wanted to be the first in my family to graduate from high school and then also graduate from college. I have a desire to do something in my life to show my younger siblings that they too can make something of their lives. I want them to be able to follow in my footsteps.”   

Pena said she was fortunate to encounter several great individuals in her life that helped fuel her desire to become an educator. Her positive experience at Northeast solidified her dreams to become an educator to young children.

“This is probably one of the best colleges to be at,” she said. “There are so many things that Northeast has to offer, and the friendly and welcoming atmosphere here was very enjoyable.”  

Pena credits the TRIO program with being a supportive resource along her journey. TRIO is a federally funded program that assists income-eligible individuals, first-generation college students (students who come from families where neither parent/guardian earned a four-year degree), and those with disabilities to progress through the academic pipeline to post-baccalaureate programs. It also focuses on career exploration, cultural and social enrichment and self-awareness.

In addition, Pena extend her gratitude to two Northeast instructors who helped put her on a path to success. She said Mary O’Boyle, education instructor, exposed her to a side of education that made her fall in love with becoming an educator. She credits Haley Mattison, on-campus recruiter/adjunct instructor, for her support as someone she could always reach out to whenever she needed it.

Pena also left a lasting impact on O’Boyle and Mattison.

O’Boyle said, “Ashley is one of the most driven students with whom I have worked! She is capable, creative, caring, articulate, respectful, positive, and has a great work ethic. Ashley balances many opportunities in her life and is an inspiration to others. She is truly going to make a positive impact in the lives of her future students.”

“Ashley is a nurturing young woman with a drive to do her best,” Mattison said. “Her genuine, kind spirit brought a light to the classroom that encouraged other students to be better versions of themselves. She was an enthusiastic learner and always exceeded my expectations with her quality of work. I wish her the best in her future endeavors.”

In addition to TRIO, Pena served as a member of the Northeast Student Activities Council and the Student Education Association of Nebraska. In addition, she put in approximately 25 hours of work each week. Through her active involvement in these organizations and her busy work schedule, Pena never lost focus of her academics and managed to be an honored member of the Dean’s List during each of her four semesters at Northeast Community College. She is also a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society.  

Pena has not only proved herself on her educational journey, she has a success story worth sharing with others. She was raised in the United States by hardworking parents. As a young child, her education experience was fraught with seemingly insurmountable barriers to her success. Beginning in kindergarten, she spoke no English; and not being able to speak or write the language in which her education was being taught, she had very limited resources outside of the school setting to aid in her struggle.

Pena is a first-generation high school and first-generation college student, and early on in life, it was expected that she should be a role model for her younger siblings and demonstrate to them that hard work pays off in the end.

“I cannot imagine the perseverance and commitment it took to overcome all of the barriers Ashley has experienced in life, and I am immensely impressed with the character and maturity she demonstrated to take on such a role for her family,” said Northeast TRIO Director Josh Becker. “Ashley is truly one of a kind, and I am so proud of her.”

For her determination, commitment and studious work habits in college, Pena was named the Northeast Community College TRIO Student of the Month in April. The award recognizes outstanding students who have been accepted into the TRIO program. Each month, a participating TRIO student is selected for the award based upon their work in TRIO and in other activities on campus or in the community. Award winners receive a plaque from the TRIO program and have their photo placed on the “TRIO Program Student of the Month” Achievement Recognition board.

The board, located in the TRIO office, features the theme, True Leaders, and includes the inscription, “We define true leaders as those who are first to strive and who give their all for the success of the Team. True leaders are first to see the need, envision the plan, and empower the team for action.”

Becker said Pena has overcome odds that were stacked against her early in life, and is now on the road to achieving her dreams.

“Ashley still recalls how difficult it was for her having to learn another language and describes it as a gift for the opportunities it has opened for her. Soon, she will be able to take her own life experiences and education and have the chance to impact so many future students in a meaningful way.” 

For more information on the TRIO program at Northeast Community College, visit