It's not about "what" makes Minnesota State extraordinary and exceptional - it's "who" - and they shine at our 37 colleges and universities across the state. Our outstanding faculty and staff partner with more than 7,000 employers to inform programs, create hands-on learning opportunities and develop the talent Minnesota needs.

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Abby Krause

Abby Krause
Hometown: Stacy, Minnesota
Graduated: 2018
Major: Nursing

After four years of active duty in the United States Marine Corps, Abigail Krause began working as a certified nursing assistant at a nursing home in Minnesota while attending school full time to pursue her goal of becoming a nurse.  

Abigail took classes at both the Coon Rapids and Cambridge campuses, taking advantage of the Veterans Club available in Coon Rapids to help make the transition from active duty to college student. After graduating from Anoka-Ramsey Community College in May of 2018, Abigail continued to pursue her education and career goals and is working toward a bachelor of science in nursing from Bemidji State University. 

Today, Abigail is working as a registered nurse with Presbyterian Homes and Services and continues to dream about her long-term goal. 

“My wild dream is to open a long-term care facility for the younger population in Minnesota,” said Abigail. “The facility would be a place for those who have complex cares that cannot be taken care of in-home or within a group-home, to have somewhere other than a geriatric population-based facility to go to.”

Dave Larson

Dave Larson
Hometown: St. Paul, Minnesota
Major: Automotive Technology

Dave Larson first came to Anoka Technical College based on a recommendation from one of his high school mentors. At that time, the automotive technology program was housed in little more than a warehouse, with more than 20 automotive students starting every other month.

Along with taking classes at the school, Dave was able to attend a 10-week on-the-job training program with General Motors. While there, Dave met the training center manager who eventually hired him to be an instructor for GM in 1986, leading to a 16-year career with General Motors. Dave eventually went on to coordinate regional Web Integrated Service Environment projects for ACDelco. 

After years of advancing in the Automotive Industry, Dave decided he wanted to teach. He reached out to the faculty at Anoka Tech for help and support getting into the education field. Just like during his time as a student, the faculty willingly provided guidance and support.

Today, Dave is a member of the Automotive Technology program faculty at Anoka Technical College.

Chelsey Jourdain

Chelsey Jourdain
Hometown: Bemidji, Minnesota
Year: Junior
Major: Elementary Education 

Chelsey Jourdain grew up across the street from Bemidji State University in a house purchased by her great-grandfather, who hoped his grandchildren would someday attend the university. 

Chelsey, now a junior at BSU, is working toward an elementary education degree and aspires for a future teaching on the Red Lake Indian Reservation, serving the people and the place where her family is rooted. 

She balances her studies with family life and a host of university activities. She and her partner, fellow BSU student Brian Hawkins, have two children.  She is president of the BSU Council of Indian Students, was awarded the 2018 Minnesota Indian Education Association College Scholarship, and was named the association’s Outstanding American Indian Post-Secondary Student of the Year. Chelsey also serves on a higher learning committee charged with crafting BSU’s cultural and diversity statement. 

As she looks forward to teaching elementary education, her own children inspire her to want the best for all children. “I want to make them feel important in their community,” she said. 

Chelsey plans to pursue a master’s degree and eventually a doctorate. The foundation of her classroom, she said, will be the Anishinaabe Teachings of the Seven Grandfathers, which focus on moral and ethical values.

Sierra Cavegn

Sierra Cavegn
Hometown: Royalton, Minnesota
Employer: CentraCare Home Care and Hospice
Degree: Practical Nursing (2014), Advanced Standing Associate of Nursing (2018)

After graduating from the practical nursing program at Central Lakes College, I worked as an LPN for two and a half years before returning to begin the advanced standing associate of nursing program.

Looking back at my educational journey, I am extremely grateful that I chose to attend Central Lakes College to pursue my nursing degree. The nursing programs at CLC have so many things to offer, including affordable tuition and a great hands-on clinical experience. 

My favorite part about these programs definitely would be the faculty that I was able to learn from. These nurses are very intelligent, and have so many amazing experiences in the field to share with their students. They work very hard to help all of their students succeed. I couldn’t be happier with my CLC experience.

“Century College helped me discover my path in life,” Tanisha said. “By building a bridge between the police and the community, I want to make Saint Paul a better home for my daughter.”

Tanisha Morgan

Tanisha Morgan
Hometown: Cottage Grove, Minnesota
Graduated: 2018
Degree: Associate of Science

When Tanisha Morgan began attending Century College, she was unsure of what she wanted to do with her life. A year later, her future became even less certain when she learned she was pregnant with her daughter.

“One of my teachers noticed something was wrong and asked me to come to her office,” Tanisha said. “I started crying and told her I was going to drop out.”

Her teacher encouraged her to stay in school and connected her with resources on campus. Soon after, she met a Human Services instructor who urged her to follow her passion for helping the community.

Tanisha went on to complete her associate of science degree in human services, and is now pursuing a degree in law enforcement at Century College. She is also part of the Law Enforcement Career Path Academy at the Saint Paul Police Department. There, Tanisha is working to raise mental health awareness, help victims of abuse, and inspire other women and people of color to join law enforcement. 

“Century College helped me discover my path in life,” Tanisha said. “By building a bridge between the police and the community, I want to make Saint Paul a better home for my daughter.”

Nicole Evridge

Nicole Evridge
Hometown: Hastings, Minnesota
Graduated: 2018
Degree: Associate of Applied Science (Marketing Design Specialist)

Nicole is a veteran working toward starting a small business. Originally from New Jersey, Nicole joined the U.S. Coast Guard in 2002 and served aboard USCGC Forward, a medium endurance cutter named for Walter Forward, the U.S. Secretary of the treasury under President John Tyler. She traveled around the Caribbean and up the Atlantic coast until her enlistment ended in 2007.

A single mom, raising a daughter, it wasn’t until she moved to Minnesota in 2011 that Nicole realized she was battling bipolar disorder with suicidal thoughts. Eventually, she was able to receive the help she needed from the VA.

Nicole enrolled at DCTC in 2012, earned a diploma in the Medical Administrative Assistant program, and went on to receive her associate of applied science degree in marketing design specialist. While on campus, Nicole was an active member of the Veterans Club and the DCTC Campus Lions Club. 

Her plans are to transfer to Metropolitan State University to earn a bachelor of arts in business management and ultimately, start a photography business with her sister, Kelly, who also attended DCTC to pursue a diploma in photography.

Rita Aspinwall

Rita Aspinwall
Hometown: Elk River, Minnesota
Graduated: 2012
Degree: Associate of Arts 

Rita Aspinwall is a perfect example of a Minnesota State graduate who is giving back to her community. After graduating from Fond du Lac Tribal & Community College, Rita earned a bachelor of arts degree in social work through the articulated partnership program FDLTCC hosts on campus with the College of St. Scholastica.

Rita was then first hired as a community health resource specialist with the Fond du Lac Human Services Division, working with youth programs. She advanced to her current role as a Program Manager for the Cancer Awareness and Prevention “Wiidookaage” Project at the Fond du Lac Band’s Min No Aya Win Human Services Center. Rita leads cancer prevention efforts through community education and survivorship events with people of all ages, including an emphasis on teaching youth about the traditional use of tobacco.

Rita is also a co-host of Native Report, a nationally syndicated television news magazine series on PBS. The award-winning show brings positive stories from Indian Country to a broad audience and celebrates Native American culture and heritage. She has appeared in numerous commercial photoshoots and is involved in entrepreneurship activities. She is a mother to three boys ages six, three, and two, and volunteers with their school activities. 

* Wiidookaage is an Ojibwe word meaning, “they help each other.”

Shawn Stroebl

Shawn Stroebl
Hometown: St. Paul, Minnesota
Graduated: 2012
Degree: Associate of Applied Science (Fire Science Technology)

When he was young, Shawn Stroebl dreamed of being a Marine or a firefighter. As it turned out, he was able to do both.

In 2002, Shawn completed four years of service in the U.S. Marine Corps. He then spent some time working at Sara Lee and in the printing industry before deciding to follow his dream of becoming a firefighter. Shawn made the decision to attend HTC due to the availability of the Veterans Resource Center and flexible class schedule. 

In 2012, Shawn graduated from Hennepin Technical College with an associate of applied sciences degree in fire science technology. He also completed emergency medical technician (EMT) training. While taking classes at HTC, Shawn was hired by the City of St. Paul Fire Department and was proud to put his skills to work protecting the people and the community.

Shawn believes that it was his education that really helped him land his dream job.

“I’m 50 times smarter after attending HTC,” said Shawn. “It’s was a great place to get started.”

WAyne Kangas

Wayne Kangas
Hometown: Cherry, Minnesota
Graduated: 2007
Degree: Associate of Science (Business)

After graduation from Hibbing Community College in 2007 with an associate of science degree in business, Wayne Kangas went on to finish his bachelor’s degree in business and began a career in financial planning. 

In 2010, Wayne and his wife returned to Hibbing where he found a passion for community and economic development throughout Northeast Minnesota. He served as the chair of Hibbing Area Chamber Commerce in 2016 and co-founded a non-profit organization, ReGen, which strives to build communities that are attractive for all people to live, work, and play on the Iron Range. 

Currently, Wayne works as a business consultant with the University of Minnesota Duluth Center for Economic Development, is a member of the Workforce Development Board, where he chairs the Equity and Inclusion Committee, and is president of the Hibbing Community College Foundation. Wayne serves as ambassador for the K America Foundation, which provides Korean language and cultural support for adoptees as well as Korean Americans.

Dave Zelm

Dave Zelm
Hometown: Menomonie, Wisconsin
Graduated: 2018
Degree: Associate of Arts 

Dave Zelm is a veteran running his own aerospace company. He served in the U.S. Air Force from 2000 to 2006, and was working at the Pentagon on 9/11 when al-Qaeda terrorists crashed American Airlines Flight 77 into the west wall. During the Iraq War, he was deployed in Kirkuk. He also served in Japan and South Korea. 

As a student at Inver Hills,  Dave was actively involved, serving as president of Student Senate and president of Club V.A.L.O.R., which provides direct means of communications,  camaraderie and support for veterans, active-duty service members, and their families. 

Dave has a strong interest in the technology behind unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, better known as drones. He has several years of flight experience and is an FAA commercially license remote pilot. His expertise with drones and aerial photography inspired him to start his own business, Zelm Aerospace, which provides a number of leading-edge services, including precision agricultural analysis and digital elevation mapping. 

Dave graduated from Inver Hills with his associate of arts degree and plans to attend Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. His goal is to earn a master of science in aeronautics with a minor in small unmanned systems.

Maria Damiani

Maria Damiani
Hometown: Grand Rapids, Minnesota
Employer: 3M
Graduated: 2012
Major: Associate of Science (Engineering)

I chose Itasca for the hands-on engineering curriculum, dedicated instructors, and strong community. Even as a high-achieving student who had a choice of many schools, I chose Itasca because I knew I’d get practical experience in addition to theory. I gained confidence at Itasca — I learned to use the tools in the shop, how to give a professional presentation, and how to attack an overwhelming project by breaking it down into manageable pieces. 

After Itasca, I transferred to complete my bachelor’s degree and found myself much better prepared to lead projects than the other students in my classes. The combination of practical experience and a solid understanding of the basic concepts in my first two years served as the perfect base on which to build additional theory and experience in my advanced classes.

I now work for 3M where I received the highest possible yearly performance rating (which is very rare), and was promoted to Advanced Systems Engineer after under two years with the company. This was a result of my leadership on a complex company-wide software project. My current job title is Advanced Smart Manufacturing Software Engineer.

Nicole Okstad

Nicole Okstad
Hometown: Proctor, Minnesota
Graduated: 2017
Degree: Welding Diploma, Rapid Prototype and Design Certificate

“I took a general metals class during my senior year in high school. That class sparked my interest and I was hooked,” Lake Superior College alumna Nicole Okstad said. “I took a year off after high school and then attended LSC for welding. I could afford LSC and be close to home.”

Nicole now works for Lake Superior College as a lab assistant and staffs the Manufacturing Auxiliary Classroom (MAC) trailer, a mobile unit that circulates to area high schools, providing high-tech machine tool, welding and automation equipment and instruction.

According to Nicole, the welding field is wide open, and she’s excited to see that women welders are becoming more common. “Welding has advanced a lot with technology that is always changing. There’s extremely high demand for welders in many fields and there isn’t a ceiling on pay with the many different specialties of welding work.”

Nicole enjoys going out to the community to share her welding expertise. “I really like working with high school students and talking with them about careers in the trades. It gets them more aware of the great jobs available they can start training for while still in high school.”

Jessie Thoreson

Jessie Thoreson
Hometown: Embarrass, Minnesota
Graduated: 2016
Degree: Associate of Arts (Integrated Engineering)

Mesabi Range College offers a high-quality education in a small classroom setting. At Mesabi Range College you’re never just a number, the faculty know you by name and want to see you succeed.

I grew up in a small town called Embarrass, Minnesota, and wanted to feel like an integral part of the college community much like where I had grown up. I quickly found opportunities around every corner, joining student senate and being in their theater productions. There was something new to try every semester. Finances were also a major consideration when choosing a college, and MRC provided a wealth of scholarships to apply for, making the choice of where I’d be able to afford the best quality education relatively simple. 

Engineering was something I hadn’t previously considered, but with the help of MRC staff I learned about this great opportunity. I am currently pursuing a mechanical engineering degree at Minnesota State University, Mankato and I am able to do what I love. I often use the skills and lessons that I learned from my time at Mesabi Range College as it was a vital stepping stone in my education, undoubtedly helping me realize and achieve my goals.

Michael O'Connor

Michael O’Connor
Hometown: Proctor, Minnesota
Employer: Medtronic
Graduated: 1992
Degree: Bachelor of Science (Business Administration)

Michael O’Connor earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a minor in project management from Metropolitan State in 1992. His subsequent professional successes include multiple U.S. patents and numerous professional certificates and awards in the fields of project management and innovation.

 Adopting Metropolitan State’s emphasis on lifelong learning, Michael went on to earn three master’s degrees (in business administration, technology management, and project management) and a Ph.D. in civil engineering. He has excelled at three Fortune 500 corporations: 3M, Pfizer, and his current firm, Medtronic, where he serves as Director, Strategy and Project Management/Chief of Staff.

Michael is an outstanding example of Metropolitan State’s core value of community engagement: in addition to serving as a Trustee of the Metropolitan State University Foundation, his volunteer commitments include mentoring doctoral students, coaching athletics teams, leading his city’s Park Board, food security work, and paint-a-thons. 

“Metropolitan State started me on the path of lifelong learning and now to improving patients’ lives,” Michael said. “I needed a four-year degree to progress in my career. Metropolitan State valued my technical training and associate degrees. My Metropolitan State degree immediately advanced my career and gave me the confidence to pursue a Ph.D.”

Jag Arora

Jag Arora
Hometown: Minneapolis, Minnesota (born in India)
Graduated: 2004
Degree: Associate of Science (Computer Networking), Bachelor of Science (Business) from Metropolitan State

Throughout high school and college Jag held several positions in the food industry, learning every aspect of the business. In 2008, he developed a business relationship with another local entrepreneur, and together they opened a restaurant and grocery across the street from Minneapolis Community & Technical College.

 In 2013, Minneapolis College approached Jag with a unique partnership to offer food out of its retired culinary space. Jag jumped at the chance to partner with his alma mater and soon offered a range of authentic cuisine, including Mexican and Mediterranean fare.  When the college’s food service vendor didn’t renew its contract, they immediately thought of Jag.

 “I work hard to meet the needs of the students, staff and faculty at Minneapolis College,” said Jag, who listens and takes note of all the feedback he hears. The time and attention he offers has paid off, as he was recently asked to compete for the food service contract at North Hennepin Community College. “I was thrilled North Hennepin chose to partner with me.  I now run their food service business as well as two campus coffee shops.”

Spencer Speltz

Spencer Speltz
Hometown: Altura, Minnesota
Graduated: 2018
Degree: Associate of Applied Science, CAD Drafting Technologies

Spencer Speltz graduated from Minnesota State College Southeast on May 9, 2018, receiving a degree in business management with high honors and a certificate in CAD drafting technologies. That’s quite an accomplishment, but consider this: Three weeks later, he graduated from Lewiston-Altura High School. PSEO coursework allowed Spencer to earn a college degree while still a high school student. 

Spencer started taking PSEO classes at MSC Southeast when he was a sophomore in high school, beginning with a nine-credit certificate in CAD drafting technology. He continued to combine high school and college through his junior year, playing high school soccer, basketball, and baseball. As a senior, Spencer gave up going to school with his friends so he could attend MSC Southeast full-time, but continued with his sports and extracurricular activities — and was even elected Prom King. 

Spencer is now a freshman at Viterbo University in La Crosse, Wisconsin, where he plans to major in engineering and minor in business administration. 

An MSC Southeast education is a family affair – both of Spencer’s parents graduated from the college. His father became an entrepreneur operating a local business while his mother has enjoyed a career at Mayo Clinic. Both of his sisters attended MSC Southeast, and are pursuing higher education and careers in health care.

Maddie Stephenson

Maddie Stephenson
Hometown: Moorhead, Minnesota
Year: Second year
Major: Computer Programming 

Maddie Stephenson had the desire to go into computer programming; what she lacked was confidence. So she headed down a different path. But when she arrived for registration, M State Steps to Success Academic Coach and Recruiter Kate Johnson noticed the switch in majors. She encouraged Maddie to reconsider, telling her about the Steps to Success grant available through Women’s Foundation of Minnesota. 

The grant provided Maddie with a free laptop, financial assistance, and perhaps most importantly, the opportunity to connect weekly with other women who work in technology. 

“I suddenly felt so much more comfortable going into programming, knowing that there were other women like me that would be supportive and there for me when I needed them,” she said. 

That path has included an internship at UCodeGirl, a non-profit that helps girls ages 10-18 pursue technology careers. Maddie has attended an IT security conference at Best Buy and competed with a combined M State-Minnesota State University Moorhead cyber-defense team. And her participation in Steps to Success led her to become involved in MISS (Many Individuals Seeking Success), where she was able to work with a team of young entrepreneurs developing an app for the city of Moorhead.

“I presented my app at Microsoft in Fargo on my birthday, and it was the best day ever,” she said.

John Frawley

John Frawley
Hometown: Red Wing, Minnesota
Employer: Minnesota Zoo
Graduated: 1987
Degree: Bachelor of Science (Recreation, Parks, and Leisure Services - Wildlife Management)

Football brought John Frawley to Minnesota State University, Mankato — he was a defensive end for the 1987 North Central Conference Champion Mavericks. But it was the opportunity to pursue his passion for conservation and the outdoors with a degree in recreation, parks, and leisure services that shaped his career.

After graduation, John worked as a zookeeper, first in Texas, then at the Minnesota Zoo. He moved out West and spent 20 years developing conservation initiatives for the marine life and ecosystem in the San Francisco Bay. In 2016, he left his post as the President and CEO of Aquarium of the Bay in San Francisco to come home and become the director and president of the Minnesota Zoo.

His environmental focus made him a perfect fit for the Minnesota Zoo, an organization that is deeply committed to protecting and caring for endangered species within its own walls and in the wild. As director, John is playing to his strengths and focusing on conservation, education, and accessibility — all of which go back to his undergraduate experiences at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

“Sports brought me there,” he said, “but I left Mankato with the foundation I built my whole career on.”

Richard Walker

Richard Walker
Hometown: Fargo, North Dakota
Graduated: 2018
Degree: Bachelor of Science (Exercise Science)

Richard Walker enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps right out of high school. What seems like a lifetime later — service to his country in the Gulf War, drug addiction, anger issues, post-traumatic stress disorder — Rich received his bachelor of science degree in exercise science degree this past December from Minnesota State University Moorhead. Along the way, he shared his story. 

At 44, he was the oldest student in MSUM’s exercise science program. Faculty asked him to speak to health and psychology classes about his life struggles. “Hearing the impact my story had meant a great deal to me,” Rich said.

 He often considered quitting, but his faculty members encouraged and supported him. 

“Richard’s determination and character are impressive,” said Dr. James Gemar, professor of health and physical education. “He’s positively impacted many students through mentoring and sharing his life experiences.”

His internship resulted in a full-time job as a physical fitness instructor at a full-service retirement community. He also volunteers at the VA’s weight room to work with patients.

Drug and alcohol abuse are prevalent among veterans, and Rich wants to help other veterans by giving them the tools that have helped him.

“The work I do, whether it’s my job or my volunteer service, hopefully will help other veterans out of the darkness,” he said.

Melinda Kassandra Lopez

Melinda Kassanda Lopez
Hometown: Truman, Minnesota
Anticipated Graduation: 2019
Major: Associate of Science (Nursing)

I am Melinda Kassandra Lopez and by the age of four, I knew my passion was centered around the medical field. Minnesota West Community & Technical College has been dedicated to helping me achieve my goals while providing the resources that allow me to start making a difference now.

I started PSEO as a sophomore in high school and recently graduated from the practical nursing program (May 2018) at the age of 17. Currently, I am in my last semester of nursing school before graduating in May 2019 with my associate of science degree in nursing. In June, I will be graduating from high school and taking the registered nursing NCLEX. This will make me the first high school student to graduate as a registered nurse in the state of Minnesota.

On campus, I am currently serving my second term as Student Senate President and am the Phi Theta Kappa Chapter President as a member of the All-USA academic team. I look forward to exploring my passions during my undergraduate years as I strive towards medical school. I have been relentlessly encouraged in my educational prospects and look forward to giving back to my community after I become an obstetric pediatric surgical gynecologist.

Callistus Ditah

Callistus Ditah
Hometown: Cameroon, Africa
Graduated: 2009

Callistus Ditah came to Normandale Community College from Cameroon. In 2009, he received the prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship.

With the help of the scholarship, he was able to attend the University of Minnesota with aspirations of becoming a physician. After graduation from the University of Minnesota, he attended the University of Oxford and went on to complete medical school at the University of Michigan. He currently works at the University of Wisconsin as a general surgery resident.

 Two tragic events influenced Callistus’ decision to become a doctor. When he was seven, his father was critically injured in a traffic accident. He also had an older brother with serious medical issues due to a medical error, which almost cost his brother’s life. 

Callistus viewed the transition from Normandale with a heavy heart. At the time he graduated, he stated, “I wish I could stay here for two more years. I’ll always be attached to Normandale.”  

He is a member of the Normandale Academy of Math and Science (AMS).

Basil Ajuo

Basil Ajuo
Hometown: Cameroon, Africa
Graduated: 2016
Degree: Associate of Science (Paralegal), Associate of Arts (Liberal Arts and Sciences)

Basil Ajuo, a first-generation immigrant student, earned an associate of science degree in paralegal and an associate of arts degree in liberal arts & sciences from North Hennepin Community College in 2016. However, his path to success was not easy, including being raised in poverty in Cameroon by his grandmother.

 In 2012, at the urging of his grandmother, a retired elementary school teacher, Basil moved to the United States seeking freedom and education. He overcame several barriers to attend NHCC, including transportation, a new language, and culture. While attending NHCC as a full-time student, Basil worked two jobs, and served as president of the Black Men’s Leadership Movement, and vice president of Student Senate. Through all of his involvement, Basil found his passion serving students from low-income backgrounds and disadvantaged families. 

He continued his education at Metropolitan State University, earning a bachelor of arts degree in individualized studies with a focus in political science and public policy in 2017, and is currently pursuing a master’s in advocacy and political leadership. His dream is to run for public office, of which he already gained experience as a member of the Minnesota State Board of Trustees. 

Inspired by the generosity of others, Basil also established Minnesota Africans United and International Institute for Caring, nonprofit organizations serving underprivileged families with the goal of helping them become self-sufficient.

Johnanna Jacobson

Johanna Jacobson
Hometown: Greenbush, Minnesota
Anticipated Graduation: 2019
Major: Nursing

Life experiences have a way of guiding one’s career path. This was the case for registered nursing student, Johanna Jacobson. Growing up on her family farm near Greenbush, Minnesota, Johanna didn’t give much consideration to what she wanted to do after high school. She was a dual season athlete who also was active in her community delivering Meals on Wheels with her grandmother.

That changed when her grandfather received a devastating diagnosis — Alzheimer’s Disease. As his disease progressed, Johanna’s grandfather was in and out of the hospital, and was eventually placed in a skilled nursing facility. Driven by his situation, at 17 Johanna began working at the nursing home in Greenbush. This experience helped solidify the career path she would follow.

“Experiencing what happened with my grandpa — the hospitals, the nursing home — really inspired me to choose nursing,” Johanna explained. “Northland has a reputation in the area for having a great program, so I decided to apply.”

She has continued her commitment to the community while at Northland, volunteering with the Winter Connect Program where she facilitates recreational activities for children with disabilities. Because of her dedication, Johanna was awarded the Henry P. Dembiczak Scholarship through LeadMN for the Spring 2019 semester.

As she prepares for graduation this May, Jacobson intends to pursue a nursing career in geriatrics. Her family’s devastating diagnosis will find purpose in a career that will benefit others facing similar circumstances.

Sebatian Parker

Sebastian Parker
Hometown: Bemidji, Minnesota
Graduated: 2018
Degree: Associate of Science (Nursing) 

Born and raised in Bemidji, Sebastian Parker found success in a nursing career after graduating from Northwest Technical College.

Following graduation from Bemidji High School in 2013, Sebastian joined the Army National Guard. Upon completing basic training, he was ready to enter the workforce. Led by his passion for healthcare and helping others, he began working as a phlebotomist at Sanford Health in Bemidji. When thinking about the next step to continue his career in the medical field, Sebastian was drawn to NTC’s two-year nursing program. 

“There are so many opportunities for variety and advancement in the nursing field,” Sebastian said. “The two-year nursing program is what really interested me in NTC. I wanted to get my nursing degree in two years, start working and then pursue my four-year nursing degree.”

NTC has prepared him for a long and successful career in the nursing industry. This fall he is working as a nurse in the Telemetry Department at Sanford Health in Bemidji, working with acute care patients with cardiac instability.

“Overall, the nursing staff is the reason I succeeded at NTC. They prepared me and made me confident for my career,” Sebastian said.

Paula McKellar

Paula McKellar
Hometown: Pine City, Minnesota
Anticipated Graduation: 2019
Degree: Associate Degree in Nursing

I am an older student that decided after 23 years to go back to school, specifically to pursue a nursing career. I chose Pine Technical and Community College due to its size, it’s reputation for an exceptional nursing program, the location, and the people that work there.

I started my journey in June 2016, taking general education classes and graduated from the licensed practical nursing program in December 2017. I currently work as an LPN while pursuing my associates degree in nursing.

Nursing school is extremely challenging and I am proud to say that I have maintained a 3.74 GPA while attending PTCC. The support from everyone at the school has made this a successful journey for me, which I plan to continue and ultimately earn my bachelor’s of science in nursing degree.

Suzie Best

Suzie Best
Hometown: International Falls, Minnesota
Graduated: 1998
Degree: Associates of Arts 

After graduating from Rainy River Community College in 1998, Suzie Best took her associate of arts degree and transferred the credits to Bemidji State University where she majored in business administration with an emphasis in management. 

Suzie lives in International Falls where she is an Account Executive for Spectrum Reach — helping clients plan, develop and schedule multi media campaigns for the second largest cable company in the country. While attending RRCC, Suzie was active on the Student Senate, which she credits with developing her leadership skills. Since graduating from RRCC and BSU, she has served on many boards and committees, not only in International Falls, but throughout the Iron Range. 

Suzie was honored as International Falls Citizen of the Year in 2009 and is a past recipient of the NBC Northland News Center’s Women in Leadership Award.

Dixie Johnson

Dixie Johnson
Hometown: New London, Minnesota
Graduated: 2016
Degree: Associate of Arts (Nursing)

Sometimes life leaves you feeling like there’s nowhere to go but up. That was the case for Dixie Johnson when she chose Ridgewater College to turn her life around. She wanted to get past childhood abuse, family dysfunction, mental health challenges, and poverty to pursue a better life. Enter Ridgewater College: Creating opportunities. Changing lives. 

While others may not have believed in Dixie, she believed in herself — and so did Ridgewater and the college Foundation. Dixie had been inspired by the healthcare providers who had helped her during her difficult times— many who likely were Minnesota State graduates — so she chose nursing as a career where she, too, could help others. She put in many hours as a community volunteer, supporting health issues like Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and cancer. While at Ridgewater, she became an advocate for others as the Student Senate president.

In May 2016, Dixie earned her associate of arts degree in nursing. In December 2017, she accomplished her next goal, earning her bachelor’s degree in nursing through Ridgewater’s partnership with Metropolitan State University. She topped that off with a holistic nursing credential. Dixie achieved success because she had a dream and she believed in herself. Ridgewater College and its Foundation helped her reach her potential and achieve that dream.

Riverland Community College Phi Theta Kappa

Phi Theta Kappa

This past fall, every other Thursday during lunch, fifth-graders at IJ Holton Intermediate School tackled a new subject focused on empathy. The Empathy Project was developed by Riverland Community College Phi Theta Kappa students as part of an Honors and Action project. Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) is a two-year college focused honor society. 

“The Honors and Action project is where students identify a need, research that need, and then act on it,” said Heidi Schara, a PTK advisor for Riverland’s chapter. Nearly 20 Riverland students started researching topics for the program in January 2018, by exploring broad topics that could be transformative, but eventually settled on questions that tied to empathy. 

“Promoting empathy and developing empathy skills in children and people in school, even people my age, will have lifelong consequences,” said Niki Kvam, Riverland PTK president. “It can affect how well they do in school, their relationships, and tons of positive things that affect them for the rest of their lives.” 

PTK got their chance at Austin’s IJ Holton Intermediate School during fall semester. During every session, the college students broke down the building blocks of empathy into topics like conflict management and perspective taking, but in a way that fifth-graders could understand.

Aaron Shannon

Aaron Shannon
Hometown: Chisholm, Minnesota
Years attended: 1992-94
Major: Music Technology 

Aaron Shannon is a recording engineer, producer, musician, and co-founding member of the Billboard charted band Plural Z. He has received accolades for his engineering and production, working with artists such as Francesca Battistelli, Sidewalk Prophets, Chris August, Hawk Nelson, Stellar Kart, and Remedy Drive; several of whom have received multiple Dove Award nominations/wins. Aaron was the head engineer for Francesca Battistelli’s record “If We’re Honest” that was nominated for two Grammy Awards in 2015 and won Best Christian Performance in 2016.

As a recording engineer, Aaron has worked on more than thirty Top 10 singles in the United States, including fifteen number one charted songs. He co-wrote the track “Come Alive,” currently used for one of the theme songs on Discovery 3D Channel. Aaron has recently become an adjunct professor at Rochester Community and Technical College teaching Audio Production.

Originally from the Iron Range in northern Minnesota, after leaving RCTC, Aaron went on to earn his bachelor of music in recording technology degree from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh (1998) and his master of music technology degree from Indiana University and Purdue University Indianapolis (2018).

Eloisa Segura

Eloisa Segura
Hometown: St. Paul, Minnesota
Graduated: 2013
Degree: Associate of Arts

A first-generation college student, Eloisa Segura was born into a Spanish-speaking single parent household, with a family income below the poverty line. Her mother immigrated to the United States with only a ninth-grade education, working as a nanny and housekeeper.

Barely getting by academically in high school, Eloisa wasn’t offered a scholarship to the small college in Iowa she wanted to attend. She felt she wasn’t worth investing in. But she rallied from her disappointment, ready to start a new path and fully dedicate herself to doing her absolute best. 

Eloisa chose Saint Paul College for its affordability and accessibility. She excelled in her studies, became a member of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society, and received academic scholarships.

“The possibilities are endless once you walk through the doors at Saint Paul College. There’s a whole team rooting for your success. I left well-prepared and graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree from a local university in 2016.”

Eloisa is currently employed as a commercial insurance analyst for a national commercial real estate capital solutions provider. 

“I am a success story, however none of this would have been possible without Saint Paul College and the opportunity it presented to me,” Eloisa said.

Steve Henningsgard

Steve Henningsgard
Hometown: Maple Grove, Minnesota
Graduated: 2017
Degree: Bachelor of Science (Computer Engineering) 

At St. Cloud State University, the experience available through a partnership with GeoComm, a leader in public safety software development,  gave Steve Henningsgard’s context and offered value to the community. 

SmartMap, software focused on indoor and 3D emergency caller location, started as a prototype project between GeoComm and SCSU. Steve led the efforts to put together a demo showing the university in 3D and plotting cell phone location on that map. This prototype was tested with SCSU public safety and demonstrated that, using the new software, incident response time was reduced.

The prototype was revised during Steve’s junior and senior years and was utilized during a major sporting event at U.S. Bank Stadium in 2018. By his senior year, Steve was working 30 hours each week for GeoComm and started full-time the day he graduated. Recently, he was promoted to product manager.

The project that Steve performed at SCSU and GeoComm received the Golden Eagle Award at the National Sports Safety and Security Conference and Exhibition (NCS4) in 2018. This award recognizes the excellence in system integration, architecture, engineering and/or construction specifically related to the safety and security of spectators, property and infrastructure.

Sabrina Burgardt-Allen

Sabrina Burgardt-Allen
Hometown: Cold Spring, Minnesota
Year: First year
Major: Welding

Welding was a big part of Sabrina Burgardt-Allen’s life even before she started the welding program at St. Cloud Technical & Community College.

After taking welding classes in high school, Sabrina took on an independent study her senior year, combining her love of welding and art. The result? The large sculpture of the Spartans’ shield outside ROCORI High School.

After visiting SCTCC and meeting instructor Chuck Haus, Sabrina knew the welding program was the right choice. She enrolled the fall 2018. 

The first couple weeks were rough as she had no internet at home to complete online classwork. However, instructor Haus was understanding and gave her some leeway. Midway through the semester, Sabrina was two weeks ahead and teaching classmates how to arc weld. 

The atmosphere and support at SCTCC are how she knows she made the right choice. 

“If you really want it, just take that extra step. It betters you off in the future. Just take a leap of faith.”

Jordan Schoener

Jordan Schoener
Hometown: Mankato, Minnesota
Graduated: 2017
Degree: Associate of Applied Science (Machine Tool Technology)

After completing his service in the military, Jordan worked at Dotson Iron Castings in Mankato, where he found he had an aptitude for machining. Interested in learning more and advancing his career, he joined South Central College’s computer integrated machining program (now called Machine Tool Technology).

Prior to starting at SCC, Jordan learned about the college’s Credit for Prior Learning (CPL) program, which enabled him to receive college credit based on what he learned in the industry and the military. Thanks to CPL, Jordan was able to test out and get credit for his first four required core manufacturing courses, which allowed him to take fewer classes each semester, work a full-time job, and still complete his degree on time.

While at SCC, Jordan also participated in the apprenticeship program to further his industry experience. His college experience was so positive that immediately after graduating with his associate of applied science degree he went on to pursue his four-year manufacturing engineer degree from Minnesota State University, Mankato, all while continuing to work at Dotson.

“South Central College gave me the confidence to continue, knowing I could do it,” Jordan said.

Gabby Powers

Gabby Power
Hometown: Readlyn, Iowa
Year: Senior
Major: Agricultural Education 

Gabby Power has the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of high school students nationwide by teaching them about the opportunities of being an agricultural educator.  

“I wanted to recruit people like me because it is important to fill the agriculture education needs of the country,” Gabby said. 

Gabby, a senior agricultural education major, was one of 12 students selected nationwide to serve as a National Teach Ag Ambassador from October 2018-October 2019. The program is administered by the National Association of Agricultural Educators. 

As a Teach Ag Ambassador, she will represent the agricultural education community by networking with prospective agricultural education teachers and presenting about the profession in high school classrooms and at conferences. She also has the opportunity to present workshops throughout the year.

“I plan on inviting high school students to SMSU on Teach Ag Day, to promote my major. It will be a great way to get students to campus and interested in my major,” she said. 

Gabby is involved in many activities on campus: Student Senate, Senior Residence Assistant, Student Activities Committee, treasurer of Ag Club, intramurals, and Admissions Ambassador.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for my ag teacher in high school. One day, I hope to make a difference in someone’s life to give back to the people that helped me become who I am today.”

Hannah Wissmiller

Hannah Wissmiller
Hometown: Kankakee, Illinois
Graduated: 2018
Degree: Associate of Applied Sciences (Wilderness and Parks Management)

In addition to pursuing an associate of applied sciences in wilderness and parks management degree at Vermilion Community College, Hannah Wissmiller was elected to the Vermilion Student Senate, where she served as Secretary during the 2017-2018 academic year. During the same year, Hannah also worked as a Resident Assistant in Vermilion’s Timber Ridge dormitory. 

In the summer of 2017 Hannah secured an internship with the National Park Service, working as a Park Guide/Ranger at the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial in Lincoln City, Indiana. Here she gained valuable federal employee work experience. During the academic year, Hannah spent countless hours volunteering with the Wilderness & Parks Club, and graduated from Vermilion with honors in the spring of 2018. 

After graduation, Hannah’s work at Vermilion and her experience with a federal agency secured her a position as a wildland firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service in Ely, Minnesota. She works on prescribed burns and wildfires within the Superior National Forest and was sent out west several times during her first year of employment to fight fires, where she recently worked on the Spring Creek fire in Colorado. Hannah loves her job because it allows her to serve the country and travel to new places.

Waheed Khan

Waheed Khan
Hometown: Karachi, Pakistan
Graduated: 2018
Degree: Bachelor of Science (Computer Science) 

An active entrepreneur, Waheed constantly looks for ways to improve the world around him. He helped bring Enterprise Car Share to Winona State and is founder of WSU Hackathon, which invites students from all majors to work collaboratively over a 12-hour period. He also helped raise cultural awareness as a member of the Muslim Student Association and received WSU’s “A Leader Improving Our World” award, presented to a student who actively celebrates the university mission and values on campus and in the Winona community.

In 2018, Waheed completed a prestigious internship at Google and graduated with degrees in Computer Science and Data Science. He started his fulltime position at Google in January 2019, and eventually aspires to open his own software firm where he can support other organizations in achieving their business goals.

“What I’ve learned is that great leaders create more leaders, not just followers,” Waheed said. “During my time at WSU, I learned from many great leaders, and the experience shaped me into who I am today. All of my successes are because of everything that I did at Winona State.”