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Students Share Personal Stories About Scholarships

Students Share Personal Stories About Scholarships

NORFOLK, Neb. -- Northeast Community College can change lives.

That point was made Tuesday, April 30, during the college’s annual Scholarship Luncheon, where recipients and scholarship sponsors had an opportunity to visit at the Lifelong Learning Center over lunch. 

 Leah Barrett, Northeast president, said many students aspire to attend Northeast, but many times -- through no fault of their own -- they run into roadblocks in achieving their dreams.  

 “Factors such as family and job commitments often prevent these students from having the financial resources necessary to attain their degree or degrees to be successful in life,” Barrett said. “However, people such as you – our donors – help make those dreams come true.”  

 Four Northeast students shared stories about their journey before, during and even after Northeast. The luncheon included the Northeast Foundation Board of Directors.  

One of the scholarship recipients was Kim Kleinschmit, who originally is from Colorado and moved to Norfolk about 20 years ago. Before that, she wanted to be a teacher, but pushed that aside to graduate high school as the wife of an Army man and mother to a daughter.  

 Life happened along the way. They traveled and she gained experience working in a kitchen and had more children, but always wanted to go to college. Around 2021 after her 13th year as a kitchen manager at a school, she had an opportunity for advancement as the food service director. She found out that she needed an associate in business administration during the interview for the position 

 After that interview, she applied to Northeast, with her last child a senior in high school. She then attended Northeast and worked.  

 “However, my entire world would come crashing down in August 2022. The job as assistant food service director became overwhelming and not what it was supposed to be. I was being forced out of a job and I had no control. Ultimately, I quit my job but continued school,” Kleinschmit said.  

 Now, she will be graduating in May, and will have several options available to her. She expressed her appreciation to the Erma & Frank Moore Memorial Business Scholarship and Nebraska Open Scholarship donors, along with Northeast for helping her with scholarships and financial aid 

 Brayden Brabec, who is from Clarkson, said Northeast is only 35 minutes from his hometown, allowing him to go home to work if he gets finished with classes early on any day.  

 Brabec is a precision agriculture major. His plans are to work as a sales professional at an implement dealer and eventually farm.  

 “I would like to thank Norman Ochsner Agriculture Scholarship for the scholarship I received last year,” Brabec said. “This helped cover some of the expenses of college. In high school, I was not the most involved kid. I would go to work directly after school and plan my schedule so I could have the most time in school to do homework. I didn’t do any sports and just did FFA and National Honor Society. I knew by doing this that I would not be the highest pick for all the scholarships, but I chose to start my future and gain work ethic still. This was probably my best decision because it helped me narrow my decision on my degree.”  

 Aurora Slusarski is from Duncan. She graduated from Shelby Rising City in 2023. She is scheduled to earn her associate of science degree in business in December, with plans to further her higher education at a university.  

 Slusarski has been involved on campus, including working with Holly Quinn at the Northeast Foundation.  

 “Along with my work studies I’ve been supported through scholarships. This year I was awarded the McIntosh Family Scholarship,” Slusarski said. “When I found out I was awarded, I was absolutely honored. It means so much to me and my family that organizations and families, such as this one, help students like me with school. Any sort of financial aid is always so appreciated. I know all recipients including myself are grateful. This scholarship has definitely helped me and my journey so far at Northeast.”  

 Melanie Alvarez was born and raised in Los Angeles, Calif., and moved to Norfolk when she was 13. She recalls the shock of moving in the winter and not having the appropriate attire to deal with Nebraska’s harsh winters 

 “My career aspirations of working in the medical field truly began when I was 15. I went into cardiac arrest after high school track practice leaving me legally dead for five minutes. My uncle, who was present, provided CPR until medical professionals arrived and could take over. It then led to me being life flown from Faith Regional to the Children’s Hospital in Omaha. There was little hope for me to recover, but I was able to beat overwhelming odds and make a full recovery,” Alvarez said.  

 After spending her time in and out of the hospital and doctors’ offices, Alvarez realized she wanted to be a part of health care and help heal and treat others the way she was helped. 

 Alvarez, the young mother of a 3-year-old, said her daughter has become her biggest inspiration to create a better future for her and her daughter  

“Without the help of the College Access Scholarship, TRIO, and Northeast, I would not have been blessed with the opportunity to further my education for a better future. I hope to graduate with a bachelor of science in nursing,” Alverez said. “After that I plan to get a master’s degree in education to become an academic adviser and help other nontraditional, first-generation students pursue their dream of higher education.”  

 Barrett told donors that scholarship support instils a sense of belonging and motivation.  

 “As donors, you keep students moving forward to not only better their lives but the lives of family members and friends who are so important to them,” Barrett said.  

 The number of scholarships Northeast has awarded continues to increase annually but has not kept up with the full needs of current and prospective students. In fact, the number of applications continues to exceed the number of scholarships Northeast can award.   

 In 2022-23, for example, the Northeast Financial Aid Office received more than 1,100 applications for scholarships. Only 610 scholarship awards were made.  

 “For the current 2024-2025 academic year we are at 918 applications and growing,” Barrett said. “To our donors, your gifts are changing lives. Whether it is $1 million or $100, gifts of all sizes matter. Each one is reflected in the desire to support the success of our community and the entire 20-county region.    

 Over the past year, Northeast established 15 new scholarships and increased the average award size to $977. There is still much work to do, she said.  

Tracy Kruse, vice president of development and external affairs, discussed the impact that donations can make in students’ lives. To learn more about giving opportunities, please email 


Scholarship Luncheon Speakers 

Speaking on Tuesday at the Scholarship Luncheon were (front row, from left) Melanie Alvarez of Norfolk; Aurora Slusarski of Duncan; (back row, from left) Brayden Brabec of Clarkson, Kim Kleinschmit of Norfolk; Leah Barrett, president; and Tracy Kruse, vice president of Development and External Affairs. (Northeast Community College)