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And the winner is...: Five seniors take home Outstanding Senior Awards
Chelsea Archer
Antelope Staff

It’s official. They have been chosen. Five seniors from various educational backgrounds took home the Outstanding Senior Award last week.

Each year, the Student Alumni Foundation chooses five elite seniors to be deemed outstanding. This year, the seniors chosen were John Blecha of Gothenburg, Krystine Hoefer of Elgin, Jessica Obermier of Aurora, Meagan Smejdir of Lincoln and Cristobal “Criss” Salinas, Jr. of Schuyler.

“The Outstanding Senior Award recognizes seniors for excellence in scholarship and leadership, as well as involvement and dedication to UNK and Kearney community,” said Michelle Widger, UNK Alumni Association assistant director. “The Student Alumni Foundation has been making these awards since the group was founded in 1981.”

To be considered, seniors had to apply for and be interviewed by a committee of board members and UNK alumni. The committee looked for a grade point average of a minimum of 3.0, demonstration of leadership qualities, service to UNK and the community, excellent communication skills and other involvement in various aspects of student life.

The five recipients will be honored at the UNK Mortar Board Honors Convocation later this month. Their names will be added to a plaque in the Alumni House.

Blecha is a chemistry major and a molecular biology minor. He is a graduate of Gothenburg Junior/Senior High School. He has served as a Chancellor Ambassador and a Student Senator and has been involved with Campus Kitchen and Loper Program Activities Council. Blecha has been on the Deans’ List for seven semesters and has been honored as a member of Phi Eta Sigma Honor Society, the Honors Program and Mortar Board. He has also presented at the Midwest Regional Meeting of The American Chemical Society. He plans to attend the University of Nebraska Medical Center after graduation.

“I think to really appreciate the collegiate experience, you must be involved in numerous activities,” Blecha said. “Chancellor’s Ambassadors has been my favorite group to be a part of, because it has given me a different perspective toward the community. I have made many connections through the events that will be beneficial in the future.”

Hoefer is a psychology major with a criminal justice minor. She is a member of the Alpha Phi social sorority where she served in several capacities including president. Hoefer is a member of the Psychology Club and Psi Chi where she also served as president and treasurer.

“I enjoy the interaction with others, along with the potential to make an impact on other individuals,” she said. “Numerous people in the organizations I’ve participated in have certainly made an impact on me.”

Hoefer is involved with UNK Theatre, Order of Omega, UNK Honors Program, Martin Hall Council, Women’s Chorus and intramurals. She is a member of Nebraska Leadership Seminar and has been published twice and presented at several conferences.

“My participation in activities has always been aimed at meeting people, becoming a well-rounded individual, giving back to the community and staying busy,” she said. “On the rare occasions that I find free time, I often don’t know what to do with myself. It is much better for me to be busy and constantly on the go. All the activities I participated in were rewarding in one way or another, and that’s what kept me coming back for more.”

Hoefer plans to attend the University of Denver and pursue her master’s degree in forensic psychology. “After completion of my master’s degree, I aim to acquire my doctorate and begin working,” she said. “I do have a few possibilities in mind: teaching and conducting research at a university, working with juvenile offenders or working with law enforcement.”

Obermier is a psychology major and special education minor. She is a member of Psi Chi where she served as secretary, Sigma Xi, a scientific research society and Phi Eta Sigma, a national honors society.

“When I first came to UNK, I never thought I would participate in many of the activities,” Obermier said. “However, once I began to get involved with Psychology Club I realized the benefits of participating in all kinds of UNK activities. Not only does it help you right away by forming friendships and getting to know your faculty, but it also helps you when you are looking for a job or looking at graduate schools.”

Obermier has aided in the organization of several professional workshops as well as presented at a number of psychology, therapy and counseling conferences nationally. Jessica has achieved the Deans’ List every semester and is a member of the UNK Undergraduate Research Fellows program where she has been published three times. After graduation, she will return to UNK to obtain her master’s degree in school psychology.

Smejdir is a Spanish translation and interpretation major with a minor in sociology. Meagan is a member of Alpha Omicron Pi, a social sorority where she has served in several leadership capacities including president.

“When I found out that I won Outstanding Senior I was very excited — I called my parents and sisters and was super pumped to tell them,” Smejdir said.

She is involved in Alpha Mu Gamma, a foreign language honor society, Gold Torch Society women’s mentoring program, Mortar Board senior honor society, Order of Omega Greek honor society, Phi Eta Sigma and Sociology Club. She also served as president for both the Student Alumni Foundation and executive vice president for the Panhellenic Council. Smejdir has extensive work experience in her field of translation and studied abroad in Toledo, Spain.

“I have not yet decided what I am doing after graduation, but am excited at the many options that have been presented to me,” she said.

Salinas is a Spanish education/ESL major and dance minor. He is a member of the Chancellor’s Affirmative Action Commission, Chancellor’s Ambassadors and Chancellor’s Leadership Class. He has been active in Multicultural Affairs at UNK where he served as student coordinator and chaired the Nebraska Cultural Unity Conference. Salinas currently student teaches in Houston.  

“The most rewarding experience has been volunteering to teach dance classes for the Arc Program of Buffalo County,” he said. “I have had the privilege to teach dance to students with documented developmental disabilities. While I have passed my passion and love for dance on to them, they have taught me a key meaning of life: to do my best at all times.”

Salinas was previously selected as one of only 21 students nationwide to participate in a paid internship program at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) Internship in Washington, D.C. He also served on the admissions counselor search committee, was a student diplomat and assisted with Summer Advising and Enrollment. He also served on UNK Student Government where he was director of student organizations. Salinas has won several awards including Congressional Youth Leadership Council Recognition, UNK Distinguished Service Award, Deans’ List, Multicultural Affairs Leadership and Academics Award, UNK Homecoming King and others.

After graduation, Salinas will attend Iowa State University to pursue a master’s degree in higher education with specialization in student affairs. “My dream is to work as a professional at the university level, to educate and influence students to pursue a higher education,” he said. “Obtaining my master’s degree in higher education with specialization in student affairs will empower me to better serve my community, my people and to realize my dream as a professional,” Salinas said.

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