Five UNK seniors receive Nester Student Leadership Award

KEARNEY – The University of Nebraska at Kearney is recognizing five May graduates with the Mary Jane and William R. Nester Student Leadership Award.

Established by former UNK Chancellor William R. Nester and his wife Mary Jane, the award honors outstanding seniors who have excelled academically and demonstrated exemplary service, character and leadership during their UNK undergraduate careers.

This year’s honorees are:

Mason Casper of Kearney graduates next week with a degree in biology with a health science emphasis. He’ll attend medical school at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.

Casper was part of the Kearney Health Opportunities Program, Chancellor’s Ambassadors, Greeks Advocating for Healthy Lifestyles and Phi Delta Theta, serving as the fraternity’s interim president, vice president and treasurer. He was also president of the Interfraternity Council and a resident assistant, assistant hall coordinator and floor president for UNK Residence Life.

His awards and honors include Phi Delta Theta New Member of the Year (2019) and Member of the Year (2020), Alpha Phi’s Mr. King of Hearts (2020), Resident Assistant of the Year (2022), dean’s list and UNK Greek Man of the Year (2023). Casper was selected as the student speaker for next week’s spring commencement ceremony.

Ming Li Goldston of East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, graduates next week with a degree in music education. She plans to teach band in middle or high school while pursuing a master’s degree.

Goldston was part of numerous UNK ensembles, including the Wind Ensemble, Pride of the Plains Marching Band, Symphonic Band and Jazz/Rock Ensemble, holding the positions of section leader and drum major. She also performed with the Collegium chamber choir, Kearney Symphony Orchestra and Kearney Area Percussion Ensemble. Additionally, she was a music department tutor and a member of the Kappa Kappa Psi National Honorary Band Fraternity.

Her awards and honors include the Travis Kilmer Marching Band Award (2023), principal euphonium for the College Band Directors National Association North Central Division Intercollegiate Band (2022), Nebraska Intercollegiate Band participant (2022), Lavern Clark Memorial Brass Scholarship, Carol Rathe Memorial Scholarship and Friends of Music Scholarship. Her scholarly work was featured in the UNK Undergraduate Research Journal.

Olivia Koenig of Lakeville, Minnesota, graduates next week with degrees in criminal justice and psychology. She’ll complete an internship with the Nebraska State Fair this summer, then she plans to pursue a master’s degree in forensic psychology.

Koenig served as president and performing arts chair for Loper Programming and Activities Council, secretary of the Criminal Justice Club and public relations chair for the Alpha Phi Sigma criminal justice honor society. She was also part of the UNK Honors Program, Student Government, Christian Student Fellowship, Psychology Club, Faculty Senate Artists and Lecturers Committee and Psi Chi, Phi Kappa Phi and Phi Eta Sigma honor societies.

Her awards and honors include the LPAC Fun 5K Scholarship (2021 and 2022), Bosak Memorial Scholarship (2021 and 2022), Kristen Nelson LPAC Service Award (2022), dean’s list, Alpha Phi Sigma highest GPA recognition (2021) and 99th percentile scorer for the criminal justice major field test (2022).

Mariah Watson of Edison graduates next week with a degree in advertising and public relations. She plans to work in advertising or marketing in the Kearney area.

Watson served as director of social media for the Alpha Phi sorority, treasurer and social media manager for the Ad/PR Club, community service chair for the Phi Eta Sigma honor society, vice president of Students in Mass Media and advertising manager for The Antelope student newspaper. She was also part of the UNK Honors Program, Lambda Pi Eta communication honor society, Circle K, Honors Student Advisory Board, Holy Cross Campus Ministry and Gold Torch Society. Watson was a New Student Enrollment leader in 2020 and 2021.

Her awards and honors include the UNK Department of Communication Outstanding Senior Award, dean’s list and numerous Golden Leaf Awards for advertising excellence.

Zach Zavodny of David City graduates next week with a degree in chemistry. He’ll attend medical school at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.

Zavodny served as student body vice president, a senator for the College of Arts and Sciences, vice president of external affairs for the Honors Student Advisory Board and Destination Downtown chair for the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity. He was also a chemistry and biology tutor in the UNK Learning Commons and a mentor in the Honors Program. Additionally, Zavodny was part of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Leadership Council, Chancellor’s Ambassadors, Faculty Senate Library Committee, Experiential Learning Committee, Undergraduate Research Fellows and Mortar Board honor society.

His awards and honors include the College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Senior Award, Analytical Chemistry Student of the Year, Don Fox Scholarship, dean’s list and Chemistry Department Scholarship.