First-in-family college student understands education’s importance

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UNK has become like a second family to junior Sergio Ceja

Sergio Ceja is a beefy guy, one who loved playing football at Lexington High. He’s never been afraid to work hard.

The past three summers since graduating from high school, the UNK student has worked as a “beef pusher” at Tyson Foods back home.

What’s a beef pusher?

“You push beef that’s on a rail for eight to 10 hours a day,” he says, “and it’s like pushing a football sled eight to 10 hours a day. I love it, because I was getting paid very well to basically do exercise.

“But sometimes, when you’re really tired, and you don’t want to be working, I think back to my coach and I hear him say, ‘Sergio, chop your feet! Chop your feet!’ and it’d get me through the day.”

He paid for his computer that way.

His parents, who’ve worked at Tyson for years, are his biggest role models. They’ve always worked hard. Both came from Mexico. Both were raised by single parents. Sergio saw both of them work eight to 10 hours a day to make a better life for him and his younger brother (who’ll also go to UNK someday).

He hears his folks say this:

“Stay humble, and remember where you come from.”

He says they’re proud because he’s first in the family to go to college.

He’ll be a junior this fall at UNK. He has two majors, early childhood education and special education. He wants to teach kindergarten someday.

Education, he knows, is so important.

He came to UNK on a full-tuition scholarship through Kearney Bound a college-prep program for promising high school students who would be the first in their family to get a degree. Kearney Bound pays for the students’ tuition, books, fees and room and board at UNK.

Sergio also received the Kent Estes Memorial Scholarship through his UNK fraternity, Pi Kappa Alpha.

He says the scholarships help him have the time to get involved on campus. Besides the fraternity, he’s also joined student government.

“I like to represent everything I do to the fullest, so I hope to make the Estes family proud that they selected me to win this scholarship. But I also hope to make the university proud and my parents proud.

“I think about my family, and I think to myself, ‘Where would I be without that money?'”

He isn’t working at Tyson this summer because he got hired as a New Student Enrollment host at UNK. He and the other NSE student hosts help incoming freshmen understand the ropes of the university life. The hosts perform fun skits, answer questions and give campus tours.

“I was there once, where I was really nervous,” he says. “My parents were really nervous. And the fact that I get to help students feel comfortable and look forward to college – I love that.”

When Sergio first heard he’d been hired as an NSE host, he was thrilled. But he also was a little bummed, he says, to tell his dad that he wouldn’t be returning home for the summer.

“But he told me, ‘You know what? You don’t belong at Tyson. You belong at school. The fact that you’ll be working for the university is awesome.'”

UNK, he says, has become a second family to Sergio.

“It’s not too big. It’s not too small. I run into people that I know; I run into people that I don’t know. So every single day is a new day. And I just love the whole family atmosphere. It kind of reminds me of home.

“When I become an alum of UNK, I want to hopefully donate money to UNK to help other students at UNK become successful.”

Student Support is one of the priorities of the Campaign for Nebraska, now in its final year. Since the campaign began in 2005, the foundation has raised more than $253 million to support students. More than 1,700 scholarship funds have been created.

If you would like to help UNK students like Sergio achieve their goals through Kearney Bound, please consider giving online or contact that foundation at 800-432-3216.

The family of the late Kent Estes, a former UNK professor who was chair of the counseling and school psychology department for more than 30 years, created a fund in his name at UNK that supports student athletes, students in the chapter of the Chi Sigma Iota counseling honor society and members of the Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity, which holds an annual golf tourney in his honor. The money raised in the tournament goes into the Estes fund. (Dr. Estes’ sons – Eric, Aaron and Luke – were members of Pi Kappa Alpha.)

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