Scholarship fills financial hole for appreciative dental student

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Dental student beats cancer, now on to do great things at UNMC

When UNMC dental student Jake Zitterkopf sat down to write a thank you letter to the people who gave his scholarship, he never intended to go above and beyond the ordinary.

He simply was showing his gratitude.

In Jake’s letter to Dr. Tom and Bev Evans of Genesee, Colo., he did go above and beyond. He wrote a heart-filled appreciation note saying how thankful he is for the scholarship and how it will change his life.

The letter impressed us here at the NU Foundation, and we looked further into Jake’s story and found another reason Jake is so grateful for the good things that have come his way in life.

We found out how, not long ago, the 22-year-old had to face death.

Jake, who’s in his first year in the D.D.S. program at the UNMC College of Dentistry, says the financial assistance from the Dr. Tom and Bev Evans College of Dentistry Scholarship helped give him the confidence and motivation to receive a quality education.

“I am very sincerely humbled by the generous gift and wanted to show Dr. Tom and Bev Evans my utmost appreciation,” Jake says. “I long for the day to be like these individuals, to have the opportunity to help others and to help be a part of the ‘we’ that is making a difference.”

Just a year ago, Jake endured a life-threatening medical diagnosis. He experienced one of the most rare, if not the rarest type of thyroid cancer, Hurthle cell. He says it changed his outlook on life dramatically.

The tumor was the size of a golf ball. He got to see a photo of it later, and it was ugly.

The surgery to remove it ran the risk of taking away his ability to speak. But everything that could have gone right, he says, did go right.

The cancer had not spread. The rest of his thyroid compensated for the part the surgeon cut out, so Jake doesn’t even have to take any thyroid medication. He’s cancer-free and healthy now and is likely to stay that way.

“It seems unbelievable,” Jake says. “I can easily recall lying in the hospital bed questioning my future.”

Dr. Tom Evans, the scholarship’s donor, also is a cancer survivor. He had oral cancer.

Tom, who’s retired from his general dentistry practice in Golden, Colo., is a 1962 College of Dentistry alumnus.

“I feel fortunate to be able to have such a fine young man get our scholarship,” he says. “It is quite ironic that the scholarship should go to a young man in dental school who had cancer of the head and neck, and the other half of my donation will go to the College of Dentistry’s Oral Cancer Programs, to help integrate the dental college’s oral cancer work with UNMC’s Head and Neck Cancer Programs.”

Tom has family ties to western Nebraska. He and his wife wanted the Dr. Tom and Bev Evans College of Dentistry Scholarship to go to students from that area like Jake, who grew up in Scottsbluff.

Jake says that coming from a family with four children and a single parent made it simply impossible for his dad, a retired superintendent of schools who now owns a used-car dealership, to afford putting all four children through college at the same time.

“My father has worked very diligently throughout our lives and has helped to motivate each of us to make it through college,” Jake says. “However, each of us were forced to look down other financial pathways.

“Many students would never have the chance to receive a quality education without financial assistance. Fortunately, for people like myself, very gracious donors are nearby.”

These donors have helped Jake pursue something he has always wanted – a career in dentistry.

He plans to open a practice in rural Nebraska someday.

As a senior in high school, he was accepted into the Rural Health Opportunities Program and went to Chadron State College. Through this program, he was given early admission into the UNMC College of Dentistry.

Although he knows many late nights and early mornings are to come, he says, the financial assistance from the Evans Scholarship makes the load lighter.

“I am extremely excited to be a part of a very compassionate and intelligent class and cannot wait to make some more memories,” says Jake, who was elected president of his class at the College of Dentistry.

“I am motivated in knowing that I have support from two very distinguished individuals,” he says.

And someday when he can, he says, he plans to be a donor, too.

“It was through God’s guidance I have been taught that together, we can make a difference.”

Student support is a top priority of the Campaign for Nebraska. If you would like to support a dental student like Jake Zitterkopf, or if you are interested in contributing to other areas of the UNMC College of Dentistry, please consider giving online.  Or feel free to contact the foundation’s Susan Norby, at 800-432-3216.

Jessica Sorensen, a public relations intern at the University of Nebraska Foundation, wrote this story. Sorensen is a senior in the College of Journalism and Mass Communications. She has studied four years of Spanish and volunteers at the Animal Humane Society.

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