PCDC Scholarships Help Students Avoid Student Loan Debt

PCDC Scholarships Help Students Avoid Student Loan Debt Main Photo

27 Jul 2022


Several recent Phelps County graduates have returned to the area to begin their careers and finished college nearly debt-free thanks in part to PCDC’s high-demand scholarships.

Many of these college graduates connected with their career paths in high school. In addition to high-demand jobs scholarships, some also benefitted from employer-reimbursed training programs.

Jory Holt, a 2020 Loomis High School graduate, graduated debt free. He earned a high-demand jobs scholarship in 2020 and participated in the John Deere Tech program, which is helping to pay for the rest of his education. He graduated from Southeast Community College in Milford in May with an associate’s degree in diesel technology and is now working at Landmark in Holdrege as a diesel technician.

“Ever since I can remember, I’ve always been in a shop tinkering on stuff,” Jory said. “I knew being cooped up in an office wouldn’t work for me.”
Jory started working at Landmark in high school. When his high school spring semester was cut short due to the pandemic, he took the opportunity to work more before heading off to SCC.

Now, he’s glad to be back “home.”

“I am close enough to home that I can still help dad on the farm,” Jory said. “I enjoy the people around here, and I like helping them. Landmark is a great company to work with. They are helpful. They don’t lead you astray. They will help you in any way possible.”
Jory has a three-year contract with Landmark where the company reimburses him monthly for his education at SCC. The PCDC high-demand jobs scholarship helped with the rest.

“It was just that little bit extra money that helped me pay for everything up front,” Jory said. “It helped buy some of my books and paid for room and board. That little extra bit of money kept me from having to pull that out a student loan.”

Jory said he hopes PCDC investors realize the impact they have on kids.

“It really helps out in the long run, and I love that they are trying to help kids come back into Phelps County to help grow the county and just bring people back to where they grew up so we can keep families here,” he said.

Jordan Wilbur, a 2020 Holdrege High School graduate, also studied diesel technology at SCC in Milford. He also graduated from the John Deere Tech program in May 2022 and is now working full-time at Landmark in Holdrege as a service technician.

Jordan also started working at Landmark in high school.

“I grew up around this stuff,” Jordan said. “My grandpa worked out here for 30 some years, and my uncle is the service manager.”

His favorite part of the job is the variety of equipment and projects he works on throughout each week and the camaraderie with his co-workers.

“They keep it very entertaining!” Jordan said.

Jordan said he enjoys living back in Phelps County and being close to family.

“Overall, I enjoy the community,” he said. “There are nice people, and I get along with a lot of people around here.”

Although he had to take out a small student loan, Jordan said the PCDC scholarship helped tremendously.

“I didn’t have quite as much saved up as I would have liked, but the scholarship helped a lot,” he said.

Hunter Brenn, a 2018 Holdrege High School graduate, is a four-year recipient of the high-demand jobs scholarship. He graduated in May from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a degree in animal science (production option).

He now farms with his brothers in Phelps County.

“As long as I can remember, this is what I’ve wanted to do,” Hunter said. “I like just being able to be close to my family and work alongside them and try to build something that I can pass on in the future.”

He started his cow herd at a young age. He recently purchased more cows, and last year he rented a quarter of farm ground.

Hunter worked on the family farm throughout high school and college. The money he earned from farming combined with the PCDC scholarship and other scholarships helped him graduate debt free.

“With the scholarship money I received, I was able to pay for the rest by working and raising cattle,” Hunter said. “I just want to thank people for giving to a cause that gets people to come back to our county and help our community grow.”

Hunter is excited to give back to the community by volunteering for the activities he participated in growing up here.

“I signed up to be a football coach for SPYAC this fall, and I’d like to help coach youth wrestling, too,” Hunter said. “I will hopefully also be involved in something related to 4-H.”

Seth Connell, a 2018 HHS graduate, started working with his dad in the construction business (Wenconn Building) in high school and discovered he enjoyed that type of work.

“I like that I get to use my hands, and I can look back and see the work I did,” Seth said.

He earned a high-demand jobs scholarship in 2019 and originally started school at SCC in Milford to study carpentry/construction. He switched gears and attended SCC in Lincoln where he earned an associate’s degree in business administration in December 2021. He decided he could learn the construction trade from his dad, Wendell Connell, but he wanted the business background as he plans to own the business someday when his dad is ready to retire.

He is now working full-time at Wenconn. He works on anything from building homes from the ground up to remodels and renovations.

“I always liked living in Holdrege so I thought why not come back here,” Seth said. “It’s small. I’ve always liked that. It’s where a lot of my friends are so it feels like home.”

Seth also avoided borrowing money to pay for his education.

“I’d like to say thank you because that (scholarship) money was able to help me out a lot during school,” Seth said. “It made it possible that I didn’t have to borrow money. It helped me out a lot, and I really appreciate it.”

Cassandra Shepherd entered her college years as a “non-traditional student.”

She graduated from high school in Arapahoe in 2009 and had been working at Phelps Memorial Health Center as a medical assistant when she decided to fulfill her dream of becoming a registered nurse.

“I was already working for Phelps Memorial, and I already loved what I was doing so I wanted to continue there,” Cassandra said. Her co-workers at Phelps encouraged her and gave her the confidence to pursue higher education.

In 2019, she started attending Central Community College. In 2021, she earned LPN status. In May 2022, she graduated with an associate’s degree in nursing.

She is now an outpatient surgery nurse at PMHC.

“Phelps Memorial was a big part of me deciding to go forward, and they supported me throughout the entire journey,” she said.

With the help of the PCDC scholarship and other community scholarships, Cassandra was able to finish college without educational debt.

“I couldn’t work much because the nursing school is pretty demanding,” Cassandra said. “Knowing I didn’t have to pay for school was a huge relief. I don’t think I could have done it without the scholarship.”

In addition to support from her employer and community scholarships, Cassandra also is grateful to Diana Watson and the team at Central Community College in Holdrege for supporting her and guiding her through the process.

“I am just very grateful for the opportunity to be able to fulfill my dreams and serve the community, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the scholarships and support I received,” she said. “I’m really grateful. We have a wonderful community. It’s just unbeatable. You can’t beat what we have here.”

Phelps County High-Demand Jobs Scholarships are a PCDC initiative designed to encourage students to consider studying for careers that are in high demand in Phelps County. The scholarships are funded by LB840 sales tax funds, private investors and a matching grant from the Phelps County Community Foundation.

Applications open in December each year and are due by February 15. Scholarships are administered through the Phelps County Community Foundation, and applications will be available on the PCCF website.