Justin Zeleski honored with Gary Thomas Distinguished Music Alumnus Award

KEARNEY – Justin Zeleski has been selected as the 2023 UNK Gary Thomas Distinguished Music Alumnus Award recipient.

He will be honored at the 43rd annual Distinguished Alumni Awards luncheon, scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Sept. 29 in the Nebraskan Student Union Ponderosa Room. Tickets are $25 per person ($30 starting Sept. 18), $15 for children ages 12 and younger, and can be purchased until Sept. 21 at unkalumni.org/homecoming or by calling the UNK Alumni Association at 308-698-5271.

Zeleski resides in Omaha and is the orchestra director and strings teacher at Millard West High School, Rowher Elementary and Black Elk Elementary.

Justin Zeleski
Justin Zeleski

He started his career in education as a K-12 instrumental and general music teacher in 2005 at Franklin Public Schools before serving as the Clark County Public Schools (Nevada) 6-8 orchestra teacher from 2006-18. In addition to his instructional duties with Millard Public Schools, Zeleski serves on the curriculum drafting team. He is an active member of the American String Teachers Association, serving as secretary of the Nebraska chapter.

“Dr. Zeleski is passionate about promoting lifelong musical participation, especially in rural and low socioeconomic schools,” said Ting-Lan Chen, Gerald Feese Professor of Violin at UNK. “His efforts to break down music education barriers are commendable.”

Zeleski has been the recipient of several honors for his work in and out of the classroom, including being a Fulbright Program scholarship recipient in 2018. He was named to the Marquiese Who’s Who in Education in 2022 and is a three-time finalist for the Smith Center’s Heart of Education Award. He is also a member of the Phi Kappa Phi honorary.

A Grand Island native and Grand Island Northwest High School graduate, Zeleski earned a bachelor’s degree in K-12 music education from UNK in 2005. He also holds a Master of Arts Education from American Intercontinental University and a Doctorate of Education from Kansas State University.

During his time at UNK, Zeleski was a member of the Pride of the Plains Marching Band, Wind Ensemble and Kappa Kappa Psi. He also performed with the Kearney Symphony Orchestra and many area bands and small ensembles.