Tag Archives: college

Saving For College

October 1, 2017 by
Photography by Sarah Lemke

Breathe. College can be paid for, and help is available.

When it comes to planning for college, “It’s definitely never too early,” says Joan Jurek, director of college planning for the Omaha office of EducationQuest, a private, nonprofit organization with a mission to improve access to higher education in Nebraska. “Families should start saving as much as they can for college when their child is young.”

For some families, planning for future college expenses may begin as soon as a child is born. This is the optimum time, as putting away $100 per month when a child is less than 1 year old could result in $20,000-$30,000, average, by age 18, depending on the plan.

The myriad possibilities include Coverdell education savings accounts (CESAs), IRAs, custodial accounts, and various investments like savings bonds, mutual funds, money market accounts, and CDs. Professional financial planners and advisers can present the pros and cons for each option. Ample information is also available online.

A 529 Plan is a simple option designed to help families set aside funds for future college costs, says Deborah Goodkin, managing director of savings plans with First National Bank of Omaha. First National Bank is Nebraska’s Educational Savings Trust (NEST) 529 program manager.

On the other hand, not every family can afford to start a college savings plan when their child is born. “It’s also never too late,” Jurek says.

“There’s no wrong time to start; just start when you can,” Goodkin says, adding that not only can any family member start a plan for a child, the NEST system also makes it possible to invite other family members to contribute.

“Whoever opens up the plan is saving for a child’s dream,” she says. “Statistics have shown that kids who know that there is a college account set up in their name are more likely to do well in school and do well in college. You’re setting the expectation for your family member to go to college and do well and think about their career.”

Parents can start saving for college, but at some point, the student will need to become involved in the planning process. This ideally starts in eighth grade, Jurek says.

“This will give them time to make sure the student takes coursework throughout high school to ensure college admission, explore career interests, and research colleges that fit those interests,” she explains. Families can then begin to more specifically assess costs associated with their student’s institutions of interest against available funds.

“The junior year is especially important, as that is when students should narrow their college choices and understand financial aid options. They can do this by attending a financial aid program, going on campus visits, and attending college fairs,” Jurek says. “This will prepare them to apply for college and federal financial aid early in the fall of their senior year.”

One thing parents should not bank on—college scholarships, especially sports scholarships. Only about 2 percent of students receive a full-ride Division I sports scholarship. Further, those full-ride scholarships are only available to boys in men’s football and basketball, and to girls in women’s basketball, gymnastics, volleyball, and tennis. Got a young Alex Gordon? Don’t expect a scholarship to cover the costs of college. That’s because in baseball, like many sports, the team’s available scholarships can be broken into smaller portions, so the “15 available scholarships” may become 20, or even 30, smaller scholarships.

Likewise, be cautious of expecting renewable merit scholarships to finance a student’s entire college career. In some states, as many as half of the B-average students who receive merit scholarships as freshman drop below the acceptable GPA for a merit scholarship by the renewal period for their sophomore year.

Which brings up finanicial aid. Jurek explains that some forms of federal financial aid are need-based, including grants, work-study programs, certain scholarships, and subsidized student loans. Online tools to estimate financial need are available to anyone on EducationQuest.org, but for students to be considered for federal financial aid, they must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) at fafsa.gov.

“‘I can’t afford it’ is a common misconception,” Jurek says. “There are ways to make college affordable including applying for financial aid and scholarships, starting at a less expensive community college, or living at home while going to college.”

Post-secondary education also doesn’t have to begin right out of high school. Adults can start their own 529 Plan, Goodkin says. There is no maximum starting age for college if life circumstances force delays, or if a young person wants to work for a year or two and put away money.

Whether or not a college savings plan is in place early on, the later process of researching college options, finding scholarship resources, learning about financial aid, and completing college applications and the FAFSA can still be daunting.

“Families who are worried about the college planning process—or don’t think college is possible—should be aware that free help is available,” Jurek says.


Alternatives to four-year degree programs

A common theory at this time is “I need a four-year degree!” Do you? Maybe not. In some fields, work experience counts more than a piece of sheepskin. Enjoy working in restaurants? A person could start working right away and work their way up. Many chefs do this, taking jobs as dishwashers or servers and moving through the ranks as they prove themselves.

“In certain areas you can actually earn more than a person who completes a four-year degree, and come out (of college) with no debt or less debt,” says Metropolitan Community College (MCC) Career Services Manager Monique Cribbs.

Others choose career paths that may or may not include some education from a community college:

  • Earning an associate’s degree
  • Earning a certificate of achievement for expanded coursework in a specific area
  • Taking noncredit courses, which can expand a person’s knowledge of one subject
  • Enlisting in military service, which provides career education and paid experience
  • Joining a trade, such as International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which allows men and women to “earn as you learn”

A community college also offers core classes at a lower tuition rate.

“Community college is not a second choice or a consolation prize. It’s a valuable option for any person going back and increasing their knowledge or continuing their education,” says Cribbs.

This article was printed in the Fall 2017 edition of Family Guide.

Deborah Goodkin

Reach for the Stars

May 25, 2017 by

College has become increasingly expensive. A semester at the University of Nebraska at Omaha now costs more than $3,000, leaving many parents—and students—wondering how to increase their ROI on college expenditure.

One of the best ways is to go into a profession that relies on science, technology, education, or mathematical knowledge.

Young people with a bachelor’s degree and with three or fewer years of experience in their field earn less than $40,000, according to a study conducted last year by Forbes, but those in STEM occupations can earn much more. One of the highest paid STEM positions, a petroleum engineer, can earn more than $85,000 with only three years’ experience and a bachelor’s degree.

Unfortunately, those lucrative loan-repayment-worthy STEM professions are underrepresented by minority and women employees. Stereotypes persist, discouraging possible candidates based on the misconception that STEM fields of study are “hard” or “boring” or “unwelcoming.”

Neal Grandgenett, the Dr. George and Sally Haddix Community Chair of STEM Education at UNO, says it’s not hard to break those stereotypes. Engaging students in camps or extracurricular activities can be effective in establishing an interest in these fields.

“I think it’s critical that parents give kids the ability to get into some of these fun camps,” Grandgenett says. “There’s fun things like rocketry and robotics. They’d be better off doing that than getting kids into more traditional math camps.”

Part of the problem, Grandgenett says, is that the camp titles do not reflect experiences that are seen as great resume-builders. Parents who want to accelerate their students in their studies may actually benefit from allowing their student(s) to delve deeper into a subject.

“Parents may gravitate away from something like “The Science of Zombies,” because it doesn’t sound useful, but it might have practical applications,” Grandgenett says. “They might talk about disease transmission and how to prevent it. The title of the camp may not be reflective of how applicable to the STEM fields it really is.”

Even throughout the school year, Grandgenett says, there are a lot of ways that students can become interested in these fields. One way is to attend speaking engagements that are open to the public. Omaha Performing Arts, for example, showcases “National Geographic Live,” in which noted researchers, writers, and photographers spend an evening discussing their adventures. These guest speakers can make STEM subjects sound exciting.

As well as being fun, Connie O’Brien, director of the Aim for the Stars summer math and science camps at UNO, says making sure boys and girls are given an equal chance to succeed in these areas is essential.

O’Brien says, “In the last 10-15 years, we have caught on to the fact that we need to teach in ways that catch [girls’] brains. When we give kids a rocket to build, for example, boys will pull out one item, then another, then start putting the two pieces together. Girls take out all the pieces and make a picture in their minds, then assemble the project.”

Women make up 73 percent of all employees in the social and life sciences, such as psychology and biology, but make up less than 30 percent of employees in many of the physical sciences, such as engineering.

“I was expected to get a college degree in nursing or teaching,” O’Brien says. “That didn’t work for me.”

It didn’t work for Allison Sambol, either. Sambol is an environmental scientist at Felsburg Holt & Ullevig, and a prime example of using a college degree to dive into a STEM career.

“I am a geographer. I went to college and I took all general studies, and my geography course was my favorite,” Sambol says. “When I graduated, I was looking for jobs; I looked for anything that had consulting in the title.”

Eventually, Sambol realized that her work decisions affected many aspects of people’s lives, and she began to see the benefits to sticking with environmental science.

“On a day-to-day basis, I’m researching physical settings,” Sambol explains. “What’s around it? What type of things might affect building it? Does it contain contaminated soil or groundwater? Wetlands, do they need to be mitigated? Are there permits that needs to be maintained?”

Being in a STEM-based career, however, does not mean that she researches alone all day.

“Part of my job is in development,” Sambol says. “Working with my clients, developing relationships, and determining communities’ problems, and how people can solve those problems.”

The possibilities for a student who becomes interested in STEM subjects are limitless. Those working with computers, specifically, are much needed in Omaha and nationwide.

“The number of computer science positions is far outpacing the number of graduates we will have in those careers,” Grandgenett says. “One in five positions in computer science will not be filled due to not having the people with the skills.”

This article was printed in the Summer 2017 edition of Family Guide.

 

Laura Kirschenbaum

January 13, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Laura Kirshenbaum is a straight-A student, but it is not good grades that her mother talks about first when describing her daughter’s scholarly accomplishments.

“It’s comments that teachers make. It’s wonderful hearing about how she treats others and how she is respectful to teachers. They say that she’s an active listener in class, that she’s kind and courteous. That’s what I’m proud about,” Jennifer Tompkins Kirshenbaum says. “You may have it in your DNA that these things are easier than for other people, or you learn at a faster pace. That may be a gift with you, but what do you do with it? Some people may have an ego with it, but Laura doesn’t. She’s grateful for what she has and is highly motivated.”

Kirshenbaum, an eighth-grader at Alice Buffett Magnet Middle School in the Omaha Public School District, admits to being a fast learner but says her excellent grades in her honors classes don’t come effortlessly. “I work hard for that,” she says.

And she definitely prefers some subjects over others. “My top subject would definitely be math,” she says. “But I love science, too: chemistry, physics, and astronomy.”

Kirshenbaum has no shortcuts to academic success to share, she says. Being a good student means being diligent: finishing the assignments, completing the reading, following directions. It also helps to have good organizational skills that ensure she’s always prepared. “I turn homework in on time and I try to stay on top of things,” she explains. “I’m proud of that.”

She even enjoys learning outside of the classroom, watching informational YouTube channels in her spare time, and competing in multiple academic events like Quiz Bowl, Science Bowl, Math Counts, Academic Pentathlon, and Book Blasters. She has an artistic side, too, that brings some balance to student life—Kirshenbaum is active in dance (ballet, modern, and jazz) and plays the violin, even performing in the orchestra pit for Omaha Public Schools’ summer musical Peter Pan in 2016.

“I also do a lot of acting,” she adds. “I’ve been in a lot of the school plays, and I’ve done some community theater as well.”

She’s even managed to make time for volleyball and local volunteering at a food bank and a homeless shelter. Two summers ago, she was a classroom helper at Jackson Elementary School. Because she’s an honors student, she is also eligible to tutor fellow students. “I like being able to help others,” she says.

Kirshenbaum says her future plans absolutely include college, which her mother and father (Matt Kirshenbaum) like to hear. It may be a little early to start choosing a particular institution, but judging by the scholarly aptitude she’s demonstrated so far, it’s clear that she’s going to be able to take her pick of schools—and programs of study—upon graduation four years from now.

“I see myself becoming a chemist,” she says. “Or a college professor in math or science.”

This article was printed in the Winter 2017 edition of Family Guide.

Fighting Misogyny (updated)

December 15, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“Fighter” is a very connotative word. People hear it and think of large, brutish men knocking each other out for money. They think broken homes, difficult childhoods, and a last resort. Women are an afterthought, usually in the form of the devoted and completely dominated girlfriend or as the victims of domestic violence. The occasional person, when prompted, remembers Ronda Rousey’s infamous loss to Holly Holm—or how hot they both are. Typically, people respond so negatively to the idea of women in combat sports that I don’t even bring up the topic. Upon mentioning an upcoming fight or my training for the first time, the initial question people usually ask is not where do I train, or what’s my record; they ask what my boyfriend thinks of it. The readiness of this question, of the mindset that prioritizes the manner in which I relate to men as the most important part of my identity, is a big part of the reason I fight. The implication of that question answers the usual follow-up question of how I got into mixed martial arts.

I had my first cage fight in January of 2016, at 110 pounds. I invited only four people outside of my team to watch, three of them women. I defeated my opponent via unanimous decision, meaning the fight went the full three rounds but the judges agreed that I was dominant throughout. It felt like a victory for not only myself and my team, but for all the skinny little girls around the city who are constantly being told they are too small or cute to get into any sport rougher than tennis. Afterward, I felt a little better equipped to handle the frequent instances of random men deciding to follow me on a run or asking me to get into the car as they drove by. My only battle wounds were bruised knuckles and a small bump to the left of my eye that quickly faded into a minor, reddish bruise. I loved having the visible symbol of my victory on my face. In part, because combined with the right amount of “resting bitch face,” it seemed to deter creepy strangers from approaching me in coffee shops or while walking down the street.

To me, “fighter” means being relentless, indomitable, dedicated, nurturing, receptive, empathetic, soft spoken, and even-tempered.

But I wasn’t quite able to wear even my minor injuries, symbols of a well-earned victory and a major milestone in my life, with pride like the male fighters can. I remember my boyfriend coming out of his first fight, his only loss to date, with a badly broken nose and blood in his eye. Everyone’s first assumption was that he had been in a fight; I know because strangers approached him, excited to talk about how he had engaged in the most masculine of sports and emerged in reasonably good shape. Where he was met with excitement, I was handed cards with hotline phone numbers from sympathetic gas station employees who didn’t believe my story. For the week or so that my bruise was noticeable, any boy I happened to be walking around with that day was on the receiving end of accusatory glares, head-shaking, and lots of poorly muffled whispers. Outside of the martial arts community in the area, it was like my victory was something I should have hidden behind closed doors. Apparently, even after all those days of getting up at 5 a.m. to train and then spend hours at the gym, I still looked like an easy target. It wasn’t my first time being silenced about something I was proud of. Gradually, I realized that MMA will not change how most people see me, but it has changed how I see myself.

During the month leading up to my second fight—this one at 115 pounds—I still encountered the stereotypical ways that women are perceived in relationship to the word “fighter.” But impositions of societal norms were not my concern during that time. Four weeks out, being a fighter means nothing about gender roles; it means constantly eating. Specifically, it signifies the consumption of a constant stream of protein shakes, eggs that I am beginning to accept will never taste good no matter how many different ways I cook them, supplements, vegetables, and what feels like gallons of water. I have put on close to 10 pounds of muscle since my first fight, in order to be able to cut a few pounds of water to make 115 pounds before weighing in, and then rehydrating back to a heavier weight the night before the fight. Beyond my diet, being a fighter means balancing the commitments of a full-time student working toward a double major, an internship, and a job while doing everything I can to win in the cage.

As a junior in college, fighting means training at an offensively early hour so I can get all my studying done before morning classes, so I can get school and work knocked out before maybe having time to eat an actual dinner, all so I can focus on working out and night training. It means trying to get to bed around 10 p.m. so my body can recover and I can do it all again the next day with a little more weight added to every lift and a little more of a push to get my 3.57 GPA up to a 3.6. It means discipline, and making adjustments when I need to study. I love my routine right now. I love training and then letting whatever Jiu Jitsu or kickboxing techniques I learned simmer in the back of my mind while I study, then letting my brain process information about Renaissance Europe and sonnets while I lift. My interests in academia and in sports complement each other, and I have heard the same from other fighters—contrary to the myth that fighters tend to be uneducated.

Lindsay2

With all of these things considered, people wonder why I would choose to be a fighter. I grew up playing softball and soccer, and have no formal background in combat sports. I am attending college on full academic scholarships and do not fit the stereotype of a cage fighter. So why would I, at 19 years old, decide to add cage fighting to my resume alongside mission trips and semesters on the dean’s list? I guess I can see how on the surface the choice might seem a little incongruous, but to me mixed martial arts is the most natural thing in the world to pursue. The long answer as to why I fight is that I live in a world where I once didn’t get hired because I wasn’t “willing to consider leaving my boyfriend” (according to the man who was interviewing me). With such experiences in mind, I don’t get how becoming a fighter could be anything but a logical course of action. In a world where women are still considered annoying if they speak, people listen to me when they see MMA on my resume. The short answer is that I like it, just as I like soccer and softball. The sport fits my personality.

Random men still follow me and yell rude comments if I’m downtown at night. Realistically, I don’t think there’s much I will ever be able to do about that. Even as I’m writing this, there’s a boy I’ve never met at the table behind me yelling “hey” every time I stop typing, but no matter if they’re a heavyweight (205 pounds and up) or a third-degree black belt in taekwondo, almost everyone I have encountered in the MMA community has shown me nothing but respect. Yes, I train ground game and standup with men, but I have never had another fighter follow me to my place of work, stand outside the door, and yell for the girl in the dress. Even if I do look like an easy target, instances of disrespect I have experienced in this most “masculine” of sports are nothing compared to the disrespect I get from men on the street on a daily basis. I think there’s a lesson there, with regard to our society’s skewed perception of what it means to be masculine. The guys I fight with are not the same guys who are treating women like inferior beings on the street or in their relationships.

The fundamental message that fighters fight to convey is simple: “I will not be dominated.” To me “fighter” is not a word synonymous with troubled home life or hyper-masculinity or misogyny. To me it means being relentless, indomitable, dedicated, nurturing, receptive, empathetic, soft spoken, even-tempered—I think all of these words describe most fighters better than whatever people think of when trying to come up with reasons I shouldn’t be one. With all due respect to those trying to look out for me, I don’t see how it’s unsafe for me to be locked in a cage with another woman my size compared to how dangerous it is for me to walk down the street. Or to, in general, be a woman who physically exists and takes up space in the world. Silencing my interests won’t fix the real problem.

“Hey” boy just invited himself to have a seat at my table. He has started talking to me despite having been pointedly ignored for at least 10 minutes and the fact that I am obviously in the middle of something. I am not polite in response. I have no interest in being dominated by a culture that puts women in boxes and has taunts at the ready in case they try to fight back. I have no interest in being quiet about my sport in order to protect people from a discomfort that I’m guessing doesn’t compare to the discomfort of a 14 year old having her ass grabbed by a stranger. I don’t care if it’s “inappropriate” for me as a “young lady” to be excited to get into a cage and physically beat another girl. I’d rather autonomously lock myself in a cage than be folded neatly into a gender role. I don’t care what your perceptions are of what it means to be a fighter, or what you think it means to be a size 0 and 20 years old with blue eyes. As my coaches and training partners are constantly reminding me, I’m not here to apologize. I’m here to dominate.

“Fighting Misogyny” was originally published Friday, Oct. 14 online at omahamagazine.com.     

Postscript

At Ralston Arena (on Friday, Oct. 14), I lost my second career fight via TKO in the final 10 seconds of the final round. The following Saturday morning by 8:30 a.m., I was back in the gym and on my way to becoming a stronger fighter.

I am not happy about losing, but I am also not devastated by getting punched in the face. I’m not fighting for perfection. I’m not perfect, and an imperfect record does not end my ambition in the cage. Rather, I’m fighting for all the girls who have contacted me to give support or share their story of fighting misogyny in their lives. I’m fighting for everyone who has told me it empowers them to see me get in the cage at all.

I want to take this opportunity to thank my incredible coaches, Mauro Siso and Sergio Rangel, and everyone at Legacy Martial Arts for supporting me on this journey. With lessons learned from defeat, we are making changes in my training regimen for the next fight.

Visit facebook.com/pg/lmaomaha for more information.

Lindsay3

Fighting Misogyny

October 14, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The undefeated Wilson fights her second career match at the Ralston Arena on Friday, Oct. 14.

20161012_bs_8935-edit

“Fighter” is a very connotative word. People hear it and think of large, brutish men knocking each other out for money. They think broken homes, difficult childhoods, and a last resort. Women are an afterthought, usually in the form of the devoted and completely dominated girlfriend or as the victims of domestic violence. The occasional person, when prompted, remembers Ronda Rousey’s infamous loss to Holly Holm—or how hot they both are. Typically, people respond so negatively to the idea of women in combat sports that I don’t even bring up the topic. Upon mentioning an upcoming fight or my training for the first time, the initial question people usually ask is not where do I train, or what’s my record; they ask what my boyfriend thinks of it. The readiness of this question, of the mindset that prioritizes the manner in which I relate to men as the most important part of my identity, is a big part of the reason I fight. The implication of that question answers the usual follow-up question of how I got into mixed martial arts.

I had my first cage fight in January of this year, at 110 pounds. I invited only four people outside of my team to watch, three of them women. I defeated my opponent via unanimous decision, meaning the fight went the full three rounds but the judges agreed that I was dominant throughout. It felt like a victory for not only myself and my team, but for all the skinny little girls around the city who are constantly being told they are too small or cute to get into any sport rougher than tennis. Afterward, I felt a little better equipped to handle the frequent instances of random men deciding to follow me on a run or asking me to get into the car as they drove by. My only battle wounds were bruised knuckles and a small bump to the left of my eye that quickly faded into a minor, reddish bruise. I loved having the visible symbol of my victory on my face. In part, because combined with the right amount of “resting bitch face,” it seemed to deter creepy strangers from approaching me in coffee shops or while walking down the street. 

But I wasn’t quite able to wear even my minor injuries, symbols of a well-earned victory and a major milestone in my life, with pride like the male fighters can. I remember my boyfriend coming out of his first fight, his only loss to date, with a badly broken nose and blood in his eye. Everyone’s first assumption was that he had been in a fight; I know because strangers approached him, excited to talk about how he had engaged in the most masculine of sports and emerged in reasonably good shape. Where he was met with excitement, I was handed cards with hotline phone numbers from sympathetic gas station employees who didn’t believe my story. For the week or so that my bruise was noticeable, any boy I happened to be walking around with that day was on the receiving end of accusatory glares, head-shaking, and lots of poorly muffled whispers. Outside of the martial arts community in the area, it was like my victory was something I should have hidden behind closed doors. Apparently, even after all those days of getting up at 5 a.m. to train and then spend hours at the gym, I still looked like an easy target. It wasn’t my first time being silenced about something I was proud of. Gradually, I realized that MMA will not change how most people see me, but it has changed how I see myself. 

During the month leading up to my second fight—this one at 115 pounds—I still encountered the stereotypical ways that women are perceived in relationship to the word “fighter.” But impositions of societal norms were not my concern during that time. Four weeks out, being a fighter means nothing about gender roles; it means constantly eating. Specifically, it signifies the consumption of a constant stream of protein shakes, eggs that I am beginning to accept will never taste good no matter how many different ways I cook them, supplements, vegetables, and what feels like gallons of water. I have put on close to 10 pounds of muscle since my first fight, in order to be able to cut a few pounds of water to make 115 pounds before weighing in, and then rehydrating back to a heavier weight the night before the fight. Beyond my diet, being a fighter means balancing the commitments of a full-time student working toward a double major, an internship, and a job while doing everything I can to win in the cage.

As a junior in college, fighting means training at an offensively early hour so I can get all my studying done before morning classes, so I can get school and work knocked out before maybe having time to eat an actual dinner, all so I can focus on working out and night training. It means trying to get to bed around 10 p.m. so my body can recover and I can do it all again the next day with a little more weight added to every lift and a little more of a push to get my 3.57 GPA up to a 3.6. It means discipline, and making adjustments when I need to study. I love my routine right now. I love training and then letting whatever Jiu Jitsu or kickboxing techniques I learned simmer in the back of my mind while I study, then letting my brain process information about Renaissance Europe and sonnets while I lift. My interests in academia and in sports complement each other, and I have heard the same from other fighters—contrary to the myth that fighters tend to be uneducated.

With all of these things considered, people wonder why I would choose to be a fighter. I grew up playing softball and soccer, and have no formal background in combat sports. I am attending college on full academic scholarships and do not fit the stereotype of a cage fighter. So why would I, at 19 years old, decide to add cage fighting to my resume alongside mission trips and semesters on the dean’s list? I guess I can see how on the surface the choice might seem a little incongruous, but to me mixed martial arts is the most natural thing in the world to pursue. The long answer as to why I fight is that I live in a world where I once didn’t get hired because I wasn’t “willing to consider leaving my boyfriend” (according to the man who was interviewing me). With such experiences in mind, I don’t get how becoming a fighter could be anything but a logical course of action. In a world where women are still considered annoying if they speak, people listen to me when they see MMA on my resume. The short answer is that I like it, just as I like soccer and softball. The sport fits my personality.

20161012_bs_8903-edit

Random men still follow me and yell rude comments if I’m downtown at night. Realistically, I don’t think there’s much I will ever be able to do about that. Even as I’m writing this, there’s a boy I’ve never met at the table behind me yelling “hey” every time I stop typing, but no matter if they’re a heavyweight (205 pounds and up) or a third-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, almost everyone I have encountered in the MMA community has shown me nothing but respect. Yes, I train ground game and standup with men, but I have never had another fighter follow me to my place of work, stand outside the door, and yell for the girl in the dress. Even if I do look like an easy target, instances of disrespect I have experienced in this most “masculine” of sports are nothing compared to the disrespect I get from men on the street on a daily basis. I think there’s a lesson there, with regard to our society’s skewed perception of what it means to be masculine. The guys I fight with are not the same guys who are treating women like inferior beings on the street or in their relationships.

The fundamental message that fighters fight to convey is simple: “I will not be dominated.” To me “fighter” is not a word synonymous with troubled home life or hyper-masculinity or misogyny. To me it means being relentless, indomitable, dedicated, nurturing, receptive, empathetic, soft spoken, even-tempered—I think all of these words describe most fighters better than whatever people think of when trying to come up with reasons I shouldn’t be one. With all due respect to those trying to look out for me, I don’t see how it’s unsafe for me to be locked in a cage with another woman my size compared to how dangerous it is for me to walk down the street. Or to, in general, be a woman who physically exists and takes up space in the world. Silencing my interests won’t fix the real problem.

“Hey” boy just invited himself to have a seat at my table. He has started talking to me despite having been pointedly ignored for at least ten minutes and the fact that I am obviously in the middle of something. I am not polite in response. I have no interest in being dominated by a culture that puts women in boxes and has taunts at the ready in case they try to fight back. I have no interest in being quiet about my sport in order to protect people from a discomfort that I’m guessing doesn’t compare to the discomfort of a 14 year old having her ass grabbed by a stranger. I don’t care if it’s “inappropriate” for me as a “young lady” to be excited to get into a cage and physically beat another girl. I’d rather autonomously lock myself in a cage than be folded neatly into a gender role. I don’t care what your perceptions are of what it means to be a fighter, or what you think it means to be a size 0 and 20 years old with blue eyes. As my coaches and training partners are constantly reminding me, I’m not here to apologize. I’m here to dominate. 

Visit http://ralstonarena.com/events/detail/dynasty-combat-sports-dc-50 for more information.

“Fighting Misogyny” was originally published Friday, Oct. 14 online at omahamagazine.com.   

The Nebraska Independent Colleges Foundation

August 26, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Nebraska Independent Colleges Foundation (NICF) President James Johnson Ph.D. is used to change. Dr. Johnson, his wife, Lesa, and his Harley-Davidson moved to Omaha four years ago, after serving respected stints at a handful of universities across the nation. Such positions included president of Ohio Valley University in West Virginia, and director of forensics and assistant to the provost at Texas A&M University.

The communication skills he has gained after a lifetime in education are making a difference in the lives of underprivileged college students in Nebraska. “We raise scholarship funds to help needy students in Nebraska attend Nebraska colleges, primarily independent colleges,” he says.

Founded in 1953, the NICF has a staff of three and is about to get a whole lot busier as they prepare to double their size and serve more schools. Currently, they raise scholarship funds for the students of Union College, Bellevue University, York College, and Hastings College.

Johnson says that, statistically, students who come out of independent colleges are hired quicker than state school graduates and they are promoted faster.


JamesJohnson1“I think it’s because of some of the types of students that private colleges attract and also smaller class size, smaller teacher/student ratio (that allows) more individual attention in the classroom,” he says.

Johnson says that the schools they currently work with are leaders in certain fields. “York, for example has an excellent teacher preparation program. Union has a very good physician assistants program with a waiting list on it. Bellevue is probably, in my opinion, one of the leaders in nontraditional programs. Hastings has such a vibrant legacy and heritage and history that speaks well for all of their programs.”

Since Johnson began his teaching career in 1983 as a professor of communication at Lubbock Christian University in Texas, he has seen the average age of a student increase.


“When I started teaching, the average age of a college student was about 23,” Johnson says. “Now the average age of the college student today is closer to 30. We have so many more adults going back to retrain or going back to make career changes.”

A recipient of the 2008 President’s Volunteer Service Award, which was presented by President George W. Bush, Johnson enjoys teaching and the relationships he has with students. He says he is able to fulfill his desire to teach through his leadership consulting firm, Ethos Leadership Group, where he serves as chief executive officer.

Johnson notes that the NICF has an annual golf tournament that has grown in attendance by 50 percent over the past four years. The tournament raises awareness and provides an opportunity for fundraising. NICF accepts donations from both corporate and individual donors.

“I enjoy being able to tell donors, when they write me a $1,000 check, that $1,000 is going to scholarships.”

Johnson has his eyes set on a big prize for the foundation—a fundraising challenge of $2.5 million. If NICF reaches that goal by the end of the year, an independent donor will match that sum, bringing the total to $5 million raised. Now that’s enough money for a lot of books.

Visit nicfonline.org for more information. B2B

Strike Zone and MVP4Life

March 14, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Learning life skills through baseball.” This is the tagline for MVP4Life, a new nonprofit organization aimed at keeping Omaha’s youth in school and helping them succeed in life. MVP4Life has joined forces with Strike Zone Omaha to form school programs, camps and clinics, coaches’ clinics, and the Upper Deck League.

The goal of MVP4Life is to instill a sense of work ethic and teach kids about the importance of contributing to the community. It’s not just about baseball. It’s about producing a rewarding program that encourages kids to work together.

Joe Siwa and Teri Cissell, partners at Strike Zone Omaha, realized the need for after-school programs in the community. It was Cissell who thought up the idea behind MVP4Life. As the nonprofit’s director, she has been working hard on the program for about a year and a half and says it’s almost ready to launch. “We have it where we want it to be and now want to hit the ground running,” Cissell says.

Over eight weeks, the school program will teach life skills to fifth through eighth graders. The goal is for students to graduate from MVP4Life with a set of essential life skills. “This is a full-circle program,” Siwa says. “Everything is connected with helping these kids become more productive citizens in life. We are giving them that foundation to live upon.”

“We’ve put a lot of thought into this and have really built a strong program,” says Cissell. Cissell and Siwa have created a complete curriculum based on the HOMERUNS life skills: Handle diversity, Overcome challenges, Make good decisions, Encouragement and leadership, Responsibility and respect, Understand and accept situations, Nurture self-esteem and confidence, and Stay focused on personal goals.

“Research shows that if kids are kept in organized school activities, they do much better in school and in life,” Cissell says. “Douglas County Sheriff’s department did research that determined if we could keep just 10 percent of male students from dropping out of high school, we could save Nebraska taxpayers $65 million per year.”

The nonprofit also includes the Upper Deck League, a competitive league for college players in their offseason. These players mentor youth on how to be successful college athletes, as well as attend a leadership conference in exchange for playing in the Upper Deck League. Siwa stresses the importance of giving back to the community and hopes that these 120 college baseball players are passing on a strong work ethic to the kids.

“Our job is to get these kids involved and teach them how to listen to instruction, take criticism, and gain a work ethic. We want to put a desire into these kids…great things happen when you work hard,” Siwa says.

The program will begin in the Omaha Public Schools and filter out to the rest of
the community.

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What happens when a child ages out of foster care?

February 16, 2014 by

Being a child in the foster care system can be lonely and confusing. Just ask Tabitha. Shuffled from one home to another, one town to another—by the time she was in high school, she was an entire year behind in her studies. She lost track of the number of foster homes and families that she left behind. It wasn’t until she was 17—nearly out of the system—that she became part of a family.

While foster care is not ideal, there are a few people who provide some stability and support while you are part of the “system.” Your caseworker. Maybe your therapist. But once you turn 19, those connections are usually lost. There may not be one single, caring adult who asks if you are doing okay. If you have enough to eat or just need a little help. If you have a place to stay or a way to get to work—if you even have a job. Or a way to go to college.

Just one caring person can make all the difference for a young adult who ages out of foster care. On their own, many are simply lost. Without connections, the statistics are grim for these older teens and young adults. Within two years, half are essentially homeless. They may be couch-surfing just to have a warm place to sleep. They have no network to find a job. Few can afford a car or even know how to drive, since the State of Nebraska doesn’t take on the liability of state wards learning those skills. They are easy targets for pimps and human traffickers. Many become pregnant.

Now, Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska (LFS) has adopted the national “Family Finding” model. This model recognizes the urgency of helping these young people establish meaningful, supportive, permanent relationships with loving adults—simply as a matter of safety, to start.

LFS is currently the only Nebraska agency providing these types of permanency services to 19-26 year-olds previously in foster care. In July 2013, LFS’ Permanent Connections program began working to build bridges for young adults to biological family members, former foster parents, siblings, former case workers, or group home staff. Most recently, LFS began expanding this support to young adults in Fremont and surrounding areas.

The program starts by identifying 40 people who have somehow been involved in the life of the young person. From this group, a smaller team is chosen. This team includes those willing to make a long-term commitment to this young adult and be an active, stable part of their lives. It’s not as formal as adoption; more like a vow to be a friend.

Many youth who grow up in foster care or spend significant time in foster homes transition into adulthood alone. They lose contact with all the people in their lives who were once in a caring role. Permanent Connections helps these youth create ties with caring and supportive adults who can give them some stability and support.

Prep for College Now

October 28, 2013 by

With college tuition seeing double-digit hikes and student loan debt at an all-time high, affording college is a big concern for many parents and students. But there are plenty of options that can make higher education reasonable for people at all income levels—grants, scholarships, financial aid, or just a good savings account. It’s all in the planning. Here are a few tips from four local financial pros.

“Certainly, the amount they should save depends on each [person’s] financial situation, but I tell them to put aside something. Start out with a regular savings account and build from there.” —Beverly Hobbs

Start Saving ASAP

Beverly Hobbs, LPL Financial Advisor with SAC FCU Wealth Management located at SAC Federal Credit Union, says parents should ideally begin saving for their child’s college education when they’re born. “With college as expensive as it is and costs rising…the earlier, the better,” Hobbs says. “Certainly, the amount they should save depends on each [person’s] financial situation, but I tell them to put aside something. Start out with a regular savings account and build from there.”

“The key here is consistency,” adds Crissy Hayes, vice president of operations at SAC FCU. “Take what discretionary income you have and budget to pay yourself first, then pay your kids second.” Scheduling automatic checking account withdrawals or payroll deductions to make regular deposits to a college fund—a “set it and forget it” system—is highly recommended.

“…all earnings in the investment are tax-deffered and remain tax-free when funds are withdrawn for higher-education expenses.” —Deborah Goodkin

Consider Investing in a 529 College Savings Plan

Deborah Goodkin, managing director of college savings plans for First National Bank of Omaha, says 529 College Savings Plans are among the best tools for parents to save for their children’s education. Plans, of which there are more than 90 available nationally, are issued by individual states. Nebraska offers four 529 plans, commonly referred to as NEST (Nebraska Education Savings Trust) plans.

NEST plans offer three big advantages, Goodkin says. “First, all earnings in the investment are tax-deferred and remain tax-free when funds are withdrawn for higher-education expenses. Second, for those who pay Nebraska state income tax, up to $5,000 of NEST contributions are deductible in computing one’s state income tax, and that amount will rise to $10,000 as of Jan. 1, 2014. Third, for those who are not savvy investors, 529 plans offer an easy way to invest and offer flexibility to move funds from more aggressive to less aggressive investments as the child ages, much like an IRA with a target retirement date does. Most plans have no minimum monthly investment, and as much as $360,000 total can be saved in any single NEST plan.”

Community colleges, technical and culinary schools, four-year colleges, and even universities abroad all qualify under 529 plan guidelines. Covered college expenses include tuition, books, fees, computers (when required for coursework), and room and board. “Virtually everything except transportation to and from school is included,” Goodkin adds.

In addition, 529 plans allow grandparents and others to make deposits as well, and the funds are transferable to other family members seeking higher education if the plan beneficiary does not use them.

Goodkin warns there are penalties on earnings when funds are withdrawn for unqualified expenses. And like any investment, there are always financial risks to consider. “But NEST plans have some of the highest plan ratings in the country, based on their earnings performance, their ease of use with online management tools and customer service, and the plans’ history of giving back to the community.”

Nonetheless, Hobbs advises parents to sit down with an expert before making any investment decisions. “Prior to investing in a 529 plan or making any investment, you want to talk with a financial advisor and tax advisor to assess your individual needs, your goals, and your risk tolerance. There are so many options, restrictions, and regulations, you want to make sure you get all your bases covered.”

“Too many parents make the mistake of thinking their kids will get full college scholarships—either academic or athletic—and they’re ill-prepared when they don’t.” —Goodkin

Look to Scholarships for Help (But Don’t Depend on Them Entirely)

“Too many parents make the mistake of thinking their kids will get full college scholarships—either academic or athletic—and they’re ill-prepared when they don’t,” Goodkin says. “What they don’t realize is that federal scholarship income guidelines are too low for many to quality. In addition, more people today are in need of financial assistance, so more are applying for scholarships. There’s just less out there.”

That’s not to say there aren’t scholarships to be found, many of which can be researched and applied for online. A comprehensive list of college scholarships, application tips and more can be found at www.scholarships.com. Students don’t need to wait until their junior or senior high school years to begin the scholarship hunt, Goodkin adds. Hundreds of smaller scholarships are awarded each year to elementary and high school students who enter essay contests, music competitions, and so on.

A high school guidance counselor can also be a great resource for learning about small scholarships offered in one’s community (think VFW, local charities, the Chamber of Commerce, etc.) or school system.

“Make sure to find out from the school what their priority deadline for FAFSA forms is [for financial aid for the following fall], as they vary.” —Paula Kohles

Seek Financial Aid

If scholarships and college savings just aren’t enough to cover your expenses, then seeking student financial aid is your next step. “Begin by completing your FAFSA [Free Application for Federal Student Aid] form well in advance and submitting to your college’s financial aid department to see if you qualify for federal grants or other aid,” suggests Hobbs.

Paula Kohles, associate director of financial aid at Creighton University, says FAFSA forms are typically filled out online these days and sent electronically to a school’s financial aid department. The beginning of a student’s second semester of their senior high school year is suggested as a good time to apply. “Make sure to find out from the school what their priority deadline for FAFSA forms is [for financial aid for the following fall], as they vary. Creighton’s is April 1st, but other schools’ deadlines are even earlier.”

Once received, the school will evaluate a student’s financial situation and send them an award notification letter spelling out their aid eligibility, Kohles says. Federally subsidized Stafford Loans and Perkins Loans, which offer college students reduced interest rate loans and special repayment options, as well as Pell Grants (which don’t need to be repaid), are some of the options students may qualify for.

“We also look at their eligibility for campus-based SEOGs (Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants) and work-study programs, as well as unsubsidized loan programs,” Hobbs adds. “There are a lot of aid options out there.”

The final takeaway? College preparation requires sound financial planning and good ol’ resourcefulness. But if you fall short, there is help available. Now get to it!

Beverly Hobbs is a registered representative with and securities offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC.

Decisions, Decisions

August 16, 2013 by

Jobs of the future will require more skill and training than the jobs of today—this puts additional pressure on schools to innovatively prepare students. Given the multitude of complex social, political, and economic issues of today, young people must graduate from high school with higher and different levels of knowledge and skill than previous generations.

Many high schools have answered this call and offer a variety of electives beyond the required core courses. Teens can choose classes in business, industrial technology, JROTC, music, band, or food science (to name a few). The purpose of these electives is to allow teens the opportunity to either explore possible career paths or to specialize their plan of study.

High schools also work cooperatively with local community colleges and universities to offer dual enrollment and Advanced Placement courses. These courses allow high school students to earn credit toward graduation and a college/vocational program simultaneously. While many secondary schools require a specific GPA to enter these courses, it is important that all students be allowed to participate.

In addition, it is important that parents persuade their teens to experiment with various career paths during summer camps and middle school. How many of us knew exactly which career we wanted by the age of 14? While it may seem unrealistic to think that a young adult would be able to select their lifelong career by their freshman year, it is vital that young people seize the opportunity to earn valuable training or college credits during high school. Many high schools are even starting to offer new ways to prepare students to explore possible career interests in a hands-on learning approach with business partners.

Schools need to strike a balance between exploration, career advancement, and college readiness. Our future as a nation and the future of each student depend upon the opportunity to receive a quality education with intellectual depth. Each student deserves the opportunity to meet the challenges of the future as informed and thoughtful citizens.