NORFOLK, Neb. – Four Northeast Community College students have been named to the 2022 Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) All-Nebraska Academic Team.
The all-state academic team is sponsored by PTK – an international honor society for two-year colleges – and the Nebraska Community College Association, to recognize students for academic achievement, leadership and service.
Danny Alvarado, of Los Angeles, MaKenzie Enderlin, of Columbus, Kaitlyn Pongratz, of O’Neill, and Jayce Vrbka, of Shelby, have joined 17 other all-state team members from five other community colleges in Nebraska in being recognized by PTK with the prestigious honor. The honorees were each presented Nebraska All-State Academic Team medallions and certificates during a ceremony in Lincoln.
Alvarado is a media arts major. In addition to his studies at Northeast, he is a camera operator for News Channel Nebraska where he films community events across Nebraska. He also assists in organizing in charity events for families with promotional graphic designs for posters and stickers.
Alvarado’s goal is employment in the film industry.
“As a kid, I loved watching movies, where I would spend so much money in Blockbuster to rent all kinds of genres of film,” he said. “I am currently pursuing a degree in Media Arts and hope to land a job filming anything with an artistic vision. After years of working in the workforce before my current education, I realized what environment I prefer. I want to help create someone else's vision for any type of medium of storytelling. I also wish to be financially stable so I can focus all my attention on that vision.”
At Northeast, Alvarado has been involved in SkillsUSA, DECA, National Postsecondary Agricultural Student Organization, Educators Rising, Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA), FBLA-PBL, National Young Farmer Educational Association, Business Professionals of America, Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA), and the Technology Student Association.
He plans to transfer to a film school to earn a bachelor’s degree in digital cinema.
After earning an associate of science degree from Northeast, Enderlin, a pre-nursing major, plans to attend the University of Nebraska Medical Center to continue to pursue a nursing degree. Her dream job is to be an obstetrics nurse and assist mothers with the highs and lows of pregnancy in an around her hometown.
“I am passionate about being part of someone’s journey into life and being there during times of sickness or heartache. I have started this goal by becoming a Certified Nursing Assistant and assisting individuals with their everyday daily cares, “Enderlin said. “Taking accelerated classes in high school for college credit brought stress into my life, but they also enlightened me to not give up and persevere. I believe passion behind a goal is the main source of success. Without my heart fully being drawn to assisting individuals to grow stronger, academics could have been more difficult along my journey into Nursing school. Studying has always been a part of my academic career since high school and it has taught me the best way to handle new material.”
Enderlin has received several scholarships based on her career path, a 4.0 GPA, and volunteer work. This includes Student Excellence at UNMC, the Donald and Dorrine Liedman Nursing Scholarship, and the Columbus Community Hospital scholarships. She has also received recognition by being named to Northeast’s President’s and Dean’s lists in both her freshman and sophomore years.
At Northeast, she serves as president of Northeast’s Tau Chi PTK Chapter where she attends and leads meetings and assists with fundraisers and induction ceremonies. Throughout high school, she was involved in HOSA that allowed her to job shadow numerous aspects of the medical field such as: neonatal, surgery, radiology, and the emergency room.
Pongratz is a physical therapist assistant (PTA) major who plans to work in a pediatric or outpatient setting upon graduation from Northeast. In college, she has served as historian of the Physical Therapist Assistant Club and has participated in programs and activities through PTK, the American Physical Therapy Association and the North Nebraska AHEC (Area Health Education Center) Scholars’ program.
She said upon graduation, she wishes to begin a career as a traveling PTA to gain a wide range of experience.
“I have always enjoyed working with children, and through my job as a Certified Nurse Aide, I have learned how to handle stressful situations in a timely manner. I know through these experiences that my final goal of working as a PTA in a pediatric setting is exactly what I want,” Pongratz said. “I look forward to growing in my knowledge and understanding in a fast-paced clinic. In the future, I hope to go back to school and receive my bachelors as a PTA at Clarkson College in Omaha, which offers a two-year program to fulfill this dream.”
Pongratz has also been named a 2022 New Century Workforce Scholar through PTK. She has received a $1,250 scholarship. The scholarship is the first of its kind to support students at associate degree-granting institutions on a national scale as they plan to enter the workforce upon the completion of a degree or certificate. The program is sponsored by The Coca-Cola Foundation and PTK.
New Century Workforce Scholars are selected based on their academic accomplishments, leadership, activities, and how they extend their intellectual talents beyond the classroom. Over 2,200 students were nominated from more than 1,200 college campuses across the country. Only one New Century Workforce Scholar was selected from each state.
Vrbka earned an Associate of Arts degree from Northeast in 2021 and is presently pursuing an Associate of Science degree in Biology. Following her time at Northeast, she plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. She is presently is employed as a full-time medical technician and as a dental assistant.
From a young age, Vrbka has always had a passion for biology, science, and math classes.
“Because of this, I have spent several hours shadowing at Columbus Community Hospital and several local dental offices to find my future career,” she said. “Through those experiences, I have decided that the dental field is the path for me because of my desire to help others. After I obtain my degree, I plan on working in a rural dental clinic around my hometown of Shelby. Being raised in small town Nebraska has taught me how essential it is to give back to my community. I want to transform my community, one patient at a time. I want to work in the health science field because it is what I was made to do.”
At Northeast, Vrbka has been a member of the College’s PTK Tau Chi Chapter, including vice president of service and has been named to the President’s Lists over four semesters.
“Through PTK, I have been able to expand my leadership skills into a new format, with new members, and new individuals to learn from,” Vrbka said. “I am now able to help students around the college and community. Phi Theta Kappa is more than an organization; it is a way to further leadership skills to prepare students to succeed within their career.”
Phi Theta Kappa introduced state academic teams in 1994 to showcase 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 Stacy Anderson, business instructor, Colleen Barnes, criminal justice/sociology instructor and Andrea Suhr, physical therapist assistant instructor.
PHOTO IDs: (From left) Kaitlyn Pongratz, Jayce Vrbka, MaKenzie Enderlin, and Danny Alvarado.