Tag Archives: university

Aloha Bluejays

February 22, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Creighton has long maintained a cross-cultural connection with Hawaii. The university considers the Central Pacific archipelago one of its top-10 recruiting states, and students from Hawaii have been flocking to this “Maui of the Midwest” for nearly a century.

The first Hawaiian student enrolled at Creighton University in 1924, long before the territory became a state (which eventually happened in 1959). Creighton started seeing increased Hawaiian enrollment after World War II in the 1940s, amid heightening racism toward people of Asian and Pacific Islander descent, says Associate Director of Admissions Joe Bezousek.

While resentment lingered from the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and other U.S. military engagements in East Asia, Creighton intentionally rejected riding the wave of then-popular discrimination.

“Creighton has always followed the Jesuit value of being accepting and treating everyone with dignity and respect. So, Creighton kept our doors open and that was a big trigger moment,” Bezousek says.

Current students of Hawaiian heritage say the school does much to foster a culture of inclusion and supply resources necessary for Native and non-indigenous Hawaiians alike to continue being engaged with their culture while thousands of miles from home.

Ku‘uipo Lono is a student at Creighton and a participating member of Hui ‘O Hawai‘i, an on-campus Hawaiian organization. Lono’s favorite part of the Hawaiian club, and the centerpiece of the organization’s calendar, is the annual lu‘au.

According to Lono, lu‘au was first conceptualized in Hawaii as a celebration of life.

“Lu‘au was originally done for a baby’s first birthday,” Lono says. “When Western people came to Hawaii, they brought a lot of diseases with them, and so it was a big deal for a baby to live past one year.”

Today, the number of Native Hawaiians who continue on to post-secondary education remains low, Lono says, so leaving the island for college is a big deal. For Lono, leaving Hawaii was a matter of broadening her horizons, sharing Hawaiian culture, and in some ways, defending her traditional culture.

“There is a big controversial thing happening on the Big Island where the United States wants to build a big telescope on a mountain, and Native Hawaiians are protesting,” she says. “For some people, being Hawaiian is going up on the mountain and protesting—for others, being Hawaiian is getting an education and being part of the committee who decides whether or not to have the telescope built.”

Much like there is a distinction between Native Americans and non-indigenous American people born and raised in America, Lono says there is a cultural difference between Native Hawaiians and people who are simply from Hawaii. Creighton’s Hui ‘O Hawai‘i is inclusive of both groups.

“There are people who are not Hawaiian at all who participate,” Lono says. “A common thing you will hear people say is ‘I am Hawaiian at heart.’”

Sela Vili is a sophomore at Creighton. Although not of indigenous Hawaiian heritage, she is from Hawaii and played a lead role in a play performed at last year’s lu‘au. More than 1,000 people attended the 2016 event, which is inclusive to other Polynesian cultures, too, not just Hawaiian.

Vili says the celebration is different each year, and the food is always authentic.

“We have a food committee, and we bring down a chef from Hawaii,” Vili says. “I love the entertainment in the lu‘au. I love dancing in it, especially given that I have been dancing since the age of 5.”

Vili refers to the Hawaiian community on campus as her family away from home. She says Hawaii is very important to her, which drives a lot of her participation in the club.

“I want to be involved in the lu‘au so I can share my culture with everyone else,” Vili says. “It’s a way for me to keep in touch with home, and also a great way to meet other students that are from Hawaii.”

Hawaiian culture is based on the idea that you live off the land and work in the fields, Lono says, but going to college offers an opportunity for a different type of life. She admits there can be some resentment toward Westerners by Native Hawaiians, especially considering the legacy of colonization and forced acculturation.

“[I used to think] this is not fair. Why do we have to work to pay rent for land we already own,” Lono says. “My perspective changed when I came here. The same thing happened to the Mexicans and the Native Americans, and I think the best thing to do is not really accept it, but to learn about it, make a difference, and move forward from it.”

Lono is thankful for the opportunity to share her culture with the rest of Creighton’s diverse student population, and she praises the club’s approximately 250 members for caring enough about their culture to share with their peers and the general public of Omaha.

“Creighton recruits heavily from Hawaii, and it is nice having so many people from Hawaii so far away from home,” Lono says.

She laments the dearth of Hawaiian food in Omaha; however, the Hui ‘O Hawai‘i organization provides an essential group of friends who get together to cook authentic foods from home, in order to feel a little closer to the Aloha State—right here in Nebraska.

The 2017 Hui ‘O Hawai‘i Lu‘au takes place March 18 at Creighton University’s Kiewit Fitness Center. Doors open at 4 p.m., dinner begins at 5 p.m., and entertainment starts at 6 p.m. Tickets cost $20 general admission, $15 students, $12 children ages 4-12, free to ages 3 and under. Contact Lu‘au Chair Tiffany Lau at tiffanylau1@creighton.edu for more information.

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Elizabeth Byrnes

November 20, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“Students come up to me in the halls and ask when the pantry is going to stock toothbrushes…Toothbrushes…What they’re coming in for, it’s not just food they need, but basic items to survive and help their family.”

-Elizabeth Byrnes

Tucked away in a discreet supply room at Ralston High School, beyond the steel lockers and crowded classrooms, Elizabeth Byrnes is stocking nonperishable goods.

While classmates hurry to first period at 7:30 a.m., Byrnes shuffles paperwork, counts inventory, coordinates volunteer shifts, and organizes pick-ups and drop-offs for the school’s food pantry.

Byrnes is not your typical teenager. Sure, she’s a 17-year-old cheerleader who gabs on a smartphone and loves to shop at American Eagle. But this 5-foot-6-inch brown-eyed beauty takes her community service seriously.

So when she saw a sign last year advertising the school’s free food pantry, titled the R-Pantry, Byrnes decided to check it out.

“I didn’t know it was needed,” she says.

On that particular day, she visited the small closet of a lecture room where teachers had been operating a makeshift pantry that allowed students in need to shop anonymously for food, toiletries, and other supplies inside the high school.

Roughly 60 percent of students at Ralston Public Schools receive free or reduced-rate meals.

To create a healthy pantry, teacher Dan Boster says the Ralston High staff noticed the need and donated nonperishable items and the seed money—roughly $800 worth—in exchange for casual dress days.

“Once the pantry was created, we handed it off to the students,” says Boster, who also serves as National Honor Society adviser and oversees the pantry project.

Byrnes acquired the larder responsibility and has helped it evolve from the small closet of a lecture hall into a spacious supply room with large tower shelves brimming with food as diverse as artichoke hearts, fruit snacks, and granola bars.

Byrnes has grown the one-person operation to having 70 volunteers on deck to assist when needed. She has presented before the Ralston Chamber of Commerce when soliciting for donations and has advocated and made Ralston High an official Food Bank of the Heartland donation site.

She describes the families who utilize the pantry as living break-even lifestyles, existing paycheck-to-paycheck, with little left over for simple luxuries such as lip balm or toilet paper. Students from such families experience a lot of stress and anxiety over where their next meal is coming from, she adds.

“I saw how education is extremely difficult to get, especially if there’s a need in the household,” Byrnes says. “Students come up to me in the halls and ask when the pantry is going to stock toothbrushes…toothbrushes…What they’re coming in for, it’s not just food they need, but basic items to survive and help their family.”

Food insecurity—which means that people lack access to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle—can be invisible, she explains. “Not knowing if there will be dinner on Friday night or lunch on Saturday.”

The R-Pantry idea is a positive response to a really challenging situation: student hunger. It is not the ultimate solution, but it is a start.

“I have so much respect and admiration for these students who are asking for help to support their
families.”

Byrnes excels in calculus, biology, and creative writing. She serves on DECA, is a class officer, and participates in National Honors Society. She enjoys running, hiking, and playing with her two dogs—Sophia and Jack.

Byrnes credits her family for always influencing her to do what’s best and help those in need. Dad (Robert E. Byrnes) is a doctor. Mom (Mary Byrnes) is a mortgage banker. Brother (Kent Keller) is a police officer.

“Her empathy for people runs very deep,” her mother says.

However, the driven teen doesn’t always communicate well with mom and dad, jokes her mother: “She was never one to seek glory. We didn’t know how involved she had been in the pantry until she was recognized. When she made homecoming court, we didn’t know about it until people began congratulating us.”

Mom adds, “She moves through life as if this is just a job. Helping others is just what she does.”

Byrnes plans to attend a four-year university next year and major in biology. She’d like to someday become a cosmetic dentist or dermatologist.

Byrnes encourages other young people: “If you see something you could change or help out, don’t be afraid to jump in there. You could change someone’s life with your one small action.”

The R-Pantry at Ralston High School (8969 Park Drive), is open on Fridays after school until 4 p.m. To volunteer, contact the school at 402-331-7373.

This article was printed in the Winter 2016 edition of Family Guide, an Omaha Publications magazine.

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.