LINCOLN, Neb. – Six Northeast Community College students have been named to the 2023 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.
Tory Halsey, Chambers, Aubrie Klabenes, Neligh, Sofia Hernandez-Natareno, South Sioux City, Yatziri Loya Barraza, South Sioux City, Christina Miller, Norfolk, and Bethany Rupprecht, Clarkson, have joined 26 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. The event took place during Community College Month in Nebraska where PTK members and advisors were recognized on the floor of the Legislature and heard from Gov. Jim Pillen prior to receiving their awards.
Halsey is an autobody technology major at Northeast. He served as vice president of fellowship for the PTK Tau Chi Chapter at the College and enjoys trap shooting, working on the family ranch and on his project pickup. Halsey has been named to the President’s and Dean’s Lists, served as president of the SkillsUSA Chapter (he earned second place in the 2022 SkillsUSA in the Automotive Collision Repair competition) and is certified in spray gun training.
Halsey said there are many things that motivated him to succeed in his college education. The satisfaction of getting the job done right is a big motivating factor for him.
“Working with my hands to accomplish a task is something that I enjoy doing. … I have learned based on these experiences that I have to take the time to get the job done right. I strongly believe that you must put in effort to receive the result you want.”
Halsey plans to work at Town and Country Autobody in O’Neill after graduation. His goal is to own his own body shop in his hometown.
“When I do achieve my goal, I hope to help my local community with their auto body needs. By helping them I hope to become a staple in my community by earning a good reputation. I am hoping to become one of the better known shops in the area.”
Halsey has also been named a 2023 New Century Workforce Scholar through PTK. He 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.
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. The program is sponsored by The Coca-Cola Foundation and PTK.
Klabenes is a graphic design major. She has been named to the President’s List and received the Elmer and Eunice Mohl and Security National Bank scholarships as well as the Nebraska Opportunity Grant. She regularly participated in PTK activities at Northeast and has been a volunteer for Meals on Wheels. She said she understands that she must make some difficult decisions to ensure that she has a good life.
“I like to work my hardest and prove that no matter how much money I do or do not have, that I can make a change,” she said. “Not only that, but I have learned many years ago to never judge a kid by what they have.”
Klabenes said her passion for leadership is to make sure that that events run as smoothly as possible.
“I am a big advocate for efficiency and if something is slowing us down then we need to find a solution so we can become more efficient. I am not a leader who believes only one person can contribute to make a difference, but we are more equal to our fellow volunteers in leading us all in the correction direction.”
Upon graduation Klabenes would like to gain employment at a company that is family-oriented or interested in community service. She would like to work for a large company in a large city and eventually move back to Nebraska with the experience she has gained.
Hernandez-Natareno is a business administration major at Northeast’s extended campus in South Sioux City. She has been named to the Dean’s List and has been a member of the TRIO program, Girls Inc., and PTK.
Hernandez-Natareno was born in Guatemala and lived in a dangerous area where she witnessed “traumatic events.”
“I was given an opportunity get out of that situation; I am not planning to waste it,” she said. What motivates me everyday is my goal to one day create a non-profit that can help many communities not only in the United States but around the entire world.”
PTK has allowed Hernandez-Natareno to develop her leadership skills. Her goal as a student has been to learn, grow and build relationships.
“PTK has helped me in those areas and many more,” she said. … “The charity events we volunteered for have allowed me to grow as a person and meet wonderful people who have also helped me grow as a person. PTK is like a family that helps each other out when needed. The type of family that give you advice and wishes you the best.”
Hernandez-Natareno plans to transfer to the University of South Dakota to earn a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
Loya Barraza is an accounting major at Northeast’s extended campus in South Sioux City. She is a member of PTK and has been named to the President’s List. Her biggest motivation is her family. She said her parents came to the United States for better opportunities.
“My family wants me to continue my education and become someone in life. They are willing to work really hard and do whatever it takes so that I can continue my education. I have learned to work hard from them,” she said. “I have (also) learned to not stop believing, that everything is possible with hard work and to never give up.”
Loya Barraza recently became a member of PTK. She enjoys volunteering and has benefited from her time as a PTK member.
“Another thing that I hope to gain from my membership is knowledge that can help me become closer with my community.”
After graduating from Northeast, Loya Barraza plans to transfer to the University of South Dakota to obtain bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business administration with a concentration in accounting. She wants to then become a certified public accountant.
Miller is a communications major. She has served as vice president Hawks Catholic, a member of PTK and has been named to the President’s List. She is motivated by members of her family who taught her that one has to work hard for what they want in life. Miller said she has had a job since she was 12 and has worked hard to finance her education and to buy a car and insure it.
“I have learned the importance of working for your own money to succeed in life. I realized that I did not like working in retail and it was not going to help me as much as another job could for my future career,” she said. “I decided to work at after-school care at the middle school. I facilitate different clubs, teaching the kids a variety of things from life skills to animals. I love this job because it allows me to work with children and it is helping me prepare for my future career.”
Miller plans to transfer to the University of Nebraska-Omaha to pursue a bachelor’s degree in elementary education with a “sub-plan” of sign language interpretation and then work in a school setting with students. She took a sign language class during her first semester at Northeast and fell in love with it.
“That is when I figured out, I want to interpret for my career,” Miller said. “I want to help children in need, and translating for deaf or hard-of-hearing students is how I am going to accomplish that. I have already taught some students sign language at after-school care where I work at a middle school. I was only able to teach the basics because that is my current level in sign language, but even being able to teach these students a little bit was nice. It could spark an interest for them to explore the language further as it did for me.”
Rupprecht is a business administration major and also plans to earn a certificate in entrepreneurship. She has been involved with PTK serving as chapter secretary, Northeast’s Student Activities Council, and Christian Student Fellowship. She has been named to the President’s List and is a recipient of the Northeast Nebraska Career Scholarship.
Rupprecht said she has volunteered in her community and elsewhere since a very young age. This includes becoming a Certified Nurse Aide and volunteering at the Norfolk Rescue Mission.
“During this time, I have realized how truly important volunteers are to my community and how essential volunteers are to those who are vulnerable,” she said. “Because of all these experiences and everything I've learned I am motivated to make an impact in my community.”
During her time in PTK, Rupprecht took on many leadership duties throughout the chapter's College Project and Honors in Action program, which included a focus on mental health. This included a mental health awareness week by hosting an activity every day to raise mental health awareness. It is this type of work she would like to make a career of. After completing her bachelor's degree in business administration, she would like to work for a business or organizations that is driven by helping others.
“One area I've considered working for is the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). By starting my career at DHHS, I hope to gain insight and knowledge on how to help those who are struggling with poverty and hunger. After about five years of working with this business, I want to start my own business where I am able to help those who struggle with financial and housing insecurities. I want to provide information and connections to those who don't even know where to start. … “Because of my volunteering experience, I have learned that people not only deserve second chances, but they also need second chance.”
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 Colleen Barnes, criminal justice/sociology instructor, Amanda Nipp, vice president of student services, and Andrea Suhr, physical therapist assistant instructor.
PHOTO IDs: (top row) Yatziri Loya Barraza, Tory Halsey, and Sofia Hernandez-Natareno. (Bottom row) Aubrie Klabenes, Christina Miller, and Bethany Rupprecht.