Student leaders, organizations recognized during Applauding Excellence awards ceremony

KEARNEY – The UNK Division of Student Affairs presented the annual Applauding Excellence awards Wednesday during a ceremony in the Nebraskan Student Union Ponderosa Room.

Established in 2012, these awards celebrate the exceptional work of student leaders, organizations and advisers on campus. Applauding Excellence awards are presented to honorees nominated by UNK students, staff or faculty.

This year’s recipients are:

Student Organization of the Year
Sigma Phi Epsilon

This organization raises money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, Nebraska Kidney Association and Kearney S.A.F.E. Center, and members volunteer with TOPSoccer. Sigma Phi Epsilon has the most members and highest GPA among UNK fraternities.

The fraternity demonstrated outstanding leadership and organizational skills by successfully executing a range of initiatives, such as community service projects, fundraisers and social events. They foster a strong sense of community and brotherhood among their members, providing a supportive and inclusive environment for personal growth and development. They actively contribute to the campus community, collaborate with other organizations and participate in universitywide events and initiatives.

New Student Organization of the Year
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Campus Walk Team

Since becoming a registered student organization last year, this group has grown in membership while giving students an avenue to spread mental health awareness on campus. The team organizes an annual suicide prevention walk, with mental health resources available for attendees. More than 200 students participated in the most recent event, which raised over $3,000 for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. A Fraternity and Sorority Life competition was also created.

Campus Diversity and Inclusion Award
Collegians for Inclusion & Accessibility
Residence Life Inclusion Advocates/Community Council

These organizations worked together to organize an accessibility scavenger hunt this past year. Students living on campus created residence floor teams and used the Goose Chase scavenger hunt app to identify various accessibility features on campus. Participants then met to enjoy snacks, receive awards and answer questions about disability awareness on Kahoot! More than 50 students participated.

Community Service Program of the Year
Kearney Bound Scholars

This organization partnered with Bright Futures Preschool in Kearney and their Sixpence Home Visitation program, which supports at-risk families and gives them an opportunity to socialize and create positive connections. At the “Merry Little Christmas Gathering,” UNK students assisted children at craft stations and volunteered as elves who took families to see Santa.

Collaborative Program of the Year
Residence Hall Association
UNK Wellness Center

These two groups coordinated the Connect @ Cushing event in the fall to encourage new students to visit the Wellness Center and meet fellow Lopers. The event included games and facility tours. Both groups have similar goals of encouraging students to pursue personal growth by finding things they enjoy.

Student Organization Philanthropy of the Year
Gamma Phi Beta

The UNK sorority hosted its annual Moonball tournament and pancake feed, raising nearly $8,000 to support Girls on the Run, coordinated through Kearney Public Schools. Members also volunteer as Girls on the Run coaches, committing nearly 40 hours to the program over 12 weeks.

Student Organization Adviser of the Year
Abel Virgilio

Virgilio is coordinator of the Kearney Bound Scholars program, which provides financial assistance, academic support and personal development opportunities for qualifying students from North Platte, Lexington, Kearney and Kearney Catholic high schools. He also advises the Kearney Bound Scholars student organization. Virgilio has built a strong and engaged leadership team while empowering these students to develop their own initiatives and programming. This year, Kearney Bound Scholars hosted a professionalism workshop where students developed resumes and they volunteered in the community with Bright Futures Preschool and Multicultural Scholars Day.

Virgilio gives students the opportunity to become leaders while ensuring they’re receiving the support they need. His attitude positively impacts the organization as he inspires everyone to be involved and active.

Student Organization Leader of the Year
Brooke Benck

As president of the Gamma Phi Beta sorority, Benck led the chapter’s executive board and ensured that each member was fulfilling their responsibilities and that the board was working together effectively. She played a key role in the chapter receiving the Philanthropic Excellence Award at Gamma Phi Beta’s 80th Biennial Convention in St. Louis, Missouri.

Benck has also served as a New Student Enrollment leader, campus visit assistant and Learning Commons tutor, and she’s a member of the Thompson Scholars Learning Community, Collegiate Middle Level Association and Order of Omega and Phi Eta Sigma honor societies.

Emerging Leader Award
JaeDee Rasmussen

A freshman at UNK, Rasmussen serves as president of the Kearney Bound Scholars student organization. He was instrumental in establishing the organization and creating an environment where students can connect with each other, strive for academic success and give back to the community.

Rasmussen is also involved in Women are Problematic, the supply chain management organization and play productions.

Rising Leader Award
Talera Kinsey

Kinsey is an active member of the Honors Program who stepped into a resident assistant role to help the community become even stronger. She has gone above and beyond to create the type of environment every student dreams of living in. Instead of accepting a promotion to live in an apartment as an assistant hall director, she opted to stay in her room in Men’s Hall so she could remain connected to her community. Kinsey assists students who are having difficulty transitioning to campus and she developed the community council. When two of her supervisors left this year, she stepped up to make sure every student in Men’s Hall had the same level of attention they would get from a full-time staff member.

Leadership Legacy Award
Joseph Hiatt

Hiatt played a critical role in developing UNK’s Delta Tau Delta fraternity, which ranks first among 129 chapters across the country. During his time as president, membership increased more than 60%, the chapter earned international recognition and leaders implemented a new member education and experience framework. Additionally, he served his organization as a member of Delta Tau Delta International Fraternity’s Undergraduate Council.

Hiatt has also served as a Chancellor’s Ambassador, chief of staff for UNK Student Government, president of the Interfraternity Council and president of the UNK Future Business Leaders of America Collegiate chapter. He helped stabilize membership in the FBLA Collegiate chapter, led service projects and enabled the group to compete at state and national conferences once again. He and his fellow officers recruited a significant number of new members, allowing the chapter to set school records in event winners at the state and national levels.

Hiatt qualified for the FBLA Collegiate National Leadership Conference in 15 events, placed in the national top 10 five times and was named the Nebraska FBLA Collegiate Member of the Year. He was also instrumental in UNK earning the Nebraska overall excellence award for four-year colleges and the national Gold Seal Award of Merit two times each.

Student Employee of the Year
Emma Benck

A member of the Financial Aid team, Benck works the front desk and helps train new employees. She’s described as very knowledgeable and flexible, someone who has the thoughtfulness and insightfulness to understand students’ situations and improve office processes.

Her nominator wrote: “One of the things I appreciate most about her is her willingness to try new things and jump right in. When we first started training her on how to help with Student Employment Services to manage the part-time jobs posted through Handshake, she listened closely to the instructions and immediately started to take over the work.”

Benck is also very personable, helping students feel comfortable when they come in and confident in their next steps as they head out. In fact, students will ask for her by name for assistance because of the care she showed when she helped them previously.

“She is a fantastic worker who is not only extremely capable, but also a pleasure to work with as a person.”

Emerging Young Professional Award
Bryan Schneider

Schneider has served as an assistant hall director for Residence Life, assisted the residence hall coordinator, supervised resident assistants and helped advise the Community Council. He has never backed down from a challenge.

His nominator wrote: “I have seen him succeed in his entrepreneurship ventures, whether they were for class or personally. He has worked to succeed in many ways, and I have no doubt that he would be a great addition to the Kearney community after graduation.”

Schneider embodies all aspects of a young professional in his respect for others, his willingness to learn and his ability to adapt.