Our Student Interns

You've seen them on campus or at your center. You may wonder who they are and what they do. Now you can read about the students serving as Ƶ environmental sustainability interns in this web series. 

Paid Internship Opportunities Available

Lexi (November 2023-Present)

Lexi has always had a passion for wildlife and nature and is working towards a Conservation Biology degree. Lexi has spent some time in Costa Rica studying the native flora and fauna while working at a wildlife rescue center. She has plans to go to the Maldives next fall to assist in research on whale sharks. Outside of school, Lexi works full-time, owns a business, enjoys traveling, loves to read, and spending time with family and her two huskies. Lexi is excited to learn more about the resources we use and how to conserve them. She believes one person can make a real difference and inspire others to do the same.

Deandra (May 2023-Present)

Deandra has an unwavering passion for environmental stewardship, she has embraced this opportunity to contribute to positive change. Deandra graduated from Ƶ December 2023 with her Associates of Arts and Associates of Science degrees. She will be transferring to the University of Omaha in the fall. She strives to one day rebuild wildlife habitats and make a difference in the environments surrounding her.

Hannah (March 2023 - Present)

Hannah is a dedicated and passionate sustainability intern with a relentless commitment to making a positive impact on the environment. With her boundless energy, knowledge, and enthusiasm, Hannah is a catalyst for change, inspiring others to join her in creating a more sustainable and harmonious world.

Kaylee (September 2022 - September 2023)

Kaylee is a dedicated and passionate individual currently pursuing a Bachelor's degree in Wildlife Biology. With a deep love for nature and a keen interest in the preservation of wildlife, Kaylee has embarked on an academic journey to contribute to the conservation and understanding of the natural world.

Driven by her passion for wildlife, Kaylee envisions a future where humans and the natural world can coexist harmoniously. She aspires to contribute to this vision by pursuing a career in wildlife conservation, where she can leverage her knowledge and skills to protect endangered species, restore ecosystems, and promote sustainable practices.

Kaylee was a sustainability intern until September 2023. This internship experience not only deepened her understanding of the interconnectedness between wildlife conservation and sustainable practices but also fostered her commitment to creating a greener and more sustainable future for generations to come.


Madison (March 2021 - Present)

Madison has been making a significant impact as a sustainability professional at Ƶ since 2021. With a Bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Biology from the University of Nebraska at Kearney, she brings a unique blend of scientific knowledge and a deep appreciation for the outdoors to her work. Madison's genuine love for the environment and its inhabitants fuels her drive to protect and conserve natural resources. Her unwavering commitment to preserving our natural world and her passion for the outdoors make her an invaluable asset in creating a more sustainable future.

Ash (June 2021 - Present)

Ash has been a sustainability professional since 2021. His unwavering commitment to sustainability makes him an inspiring role model for both his colleagues and the wider community, leaving a lasting legacy of beauty and environmental consciousness on this campus. Ash has a profound knowledge of plants and all things natural, which is greatly appreciated by our staff and community

Kazia (October 2018 - June 2023)

Kazia was a sustainability professional until June 2023. She is a talented and passionate individual who finds joy in the intersection of creativity and sustainability. She dedicated herself to her craft and used her artistic skills to make a positive impact. Kazia's love for art permeates through her work, as she consistently seeks innovative ways to promote sustainable practices through creative mediums. Whether it's designing visually striking posters to raise awareness about environmental issues or repurposing materials to create stunning eco-friendly installations, Kazia's creativity knows no bounds. Her unwavering dedication to sustainability and her ability to transform abstract concepts into tangible artistic expressions makes her a true visionary. Kazia's unique perspective and commitment to her craft inspired others to view sustainability through a creative lens, fostering a deeper appreciation for the environment and the importance of living harmoniously with nature.

Leah Wagoner (November 2016 - 2021)

 Leah Wagoner dreams of owning a tiny house and running a business out of it … someday. 

For now, she’s working on the education that could make the dream a reality. She’s enrolled in Bellevue University’s accelerated business program and is completing her general education classes at Ƶ-Grand Island. 

This is the latest educational step for Wagoner, a Hastings native whose family moved to Missouri where she earned a high school diploma through a GED program at age 16. She then returned to Nebraska where she completed certified nursing assistant classes at Ƶ at age 17. 

These days, she’s not only a Ƶ student. She’s also an environmental sustainability professional intern. 

“The internship is so important,” she said. “It’s helping me to build relationships and to network with students and faculty. It’s giving me a chance to learn new things and gain experience.” 

She also sees it as a component of her business classes where her focus is on sustainable cities. 

“I believe in plugging into the community and making it better,” she said. “I also believe in baby steps, that we don’t have to do something 100 percent right away. I want people to see sustainability measures are easy.” 

In her position as an intern, she has helped with the college’s Earth Week activities in Grand Island and Hastings, Green Fling in Hastings and the Hard Hats and Heels youth camp and Walk with the Mayor in Grand Island. 

Being an intern has helped Wagoner in other ways. “I always try to be positive and walk through any fear,” she said. “Working as an intern means I’m putting myself out there, getting my name out there.” 

When she isn’t taking classes or working to further sustainability, she enjoys spending time with her two children, 17-year-old Trevor and 11-year-old Cody. She also recently became engaged to Jeff Engelhaupt, a product specialist at Midway Auto in Kearney and a Ƶ graduate.

Liang Loo (June 2016 - August 2018)

For Liang Loo of Grand Island, good environmental sustainability practices were something she grew up with.

She came to the U.S. from Cuba in 2009 with two of her three siblings and her mom, who was a political refugee. “We only owned the clothes we were wearing,” she said. “The Catholic Church person who picked us up told us we were driving to Hastings. All I could see was corn, corn, corn.”

But moving to Hastings also gave Loo her first contact with Ƶ through the English as a second language program at the Hastings Campus. “My first teacher was Susan McDowall. She’s the best ever,” she said.

Loo quit after her second semester, however, to care for her first child, but she returned to Ƶ in the fall of 2014. “I said that I’m going to get my degree,” she said. “I’m not stopping.”

And she didn’t stop. She earned an associate of arts degree from Ƶ-Grand Island in May 2017 and is now working toward a bachelor’s degree at Bellevue University.

Even though she has graduated from Ƶ, she continues to work as a professional intern for the college’s environmental sustainability program. She initially worked with the bike share pilot program in Grand Island and went on to do research on recycling, composting and green buildings and to give presentations on the bike share program to new students and on water to kids at the Nebraska State Fair.

Serving as an environmental sustainability intern was a natural fit for Loo. “Because I came from a developing country, I was used to organic food,” she said. “If we wanted spices or herbs, we planted them. The same was true of vegetables and fruits. Whatever you have, you don’t throw away. You use it until it can’t be used anymore. You don’t leave a room without shutting off the light.”

And even though she is already balancing responsibilities that include husband Keith O’Brien, her three children, Bellevue classes and her internship, she’s still found time to volunteer for Ƶ’s adult basic education program.

“I had almost no English when I came here, but I’ve had a lot of help along the way to reach my goals,” she said. “Now it’s time to give back.”

Jan Blair (May 2016 - May 2019)

For Jan Blair, education was a desire … and a necessity. 

After being a stay-at-home mom and community volunteer, she decided to venture into the workplace and took a job at the American Red Cross office. She later left emergency management behind and went into retail. 

“At some point, I decided I wanted to be working toward something else,” she said. “Every place I applied to, I had the experience, but they wouldn’t hire someone without an associate’s degree. I thought, ‘Okay, let’s do something about that.’” 

So Blair signed up for business administration classes at Ƶ-Columbus and earned a certificate. She has since switched to business technology and is working toward an associate’s degree. 

It was an email she received when she signed up for classes that led her to become an environmental sustainability professional intern. 

“I was looking for a part-time job at that point so I decided to check it out because of the way the position was described. The being able to plan and do different things really caught my eye,” she said. 

Blair’s main responsibility has been regenerating the campus recycling program. “It was at a standstill,” she said. “Students weren’t thinking about it or they were confused or unaware of how to recycle.” 

Her efforts to educate students about recycling take many forms, whether it’s placing information on the cafeteria tables, setting up an informational booth on campus or working with outside groups for specific events, such as Keep Columbus Beautiful for Earth Day. 

Taking on the internship has been a learning experience for Blair, too. 

"I was recycling prior to this job, but not consciously,” she said. “When it comes to the environment, you have to talk the talk and walk the walk. Doing what’s right means a lifestyle change because living sustainably only works when you’re doing it everywhere.” 

Blair lives in Columbus and has two children and two grandchildren.

Ryan Brentzel (April - July 2017)

Ryan Brentzel’s contribution to Ƶ-Hastings will live on, even if most people don’t realize it’s his work.

That work was part of his job as a professional intern for the college’s environmental sustainability program and involved tilling, planting, watering, weeding and fertilizing the culinary and pollination gardens on campus.

He also worked on the Pawnee corn garden, which is the result of a collaborative project started in 2004 by Ronnie O’Brien, hospitality management and culinary arts instructor at Ƶ-Hastings, and Deb Echo-Hawk, who is in charge of food programs for the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma. The need for the project has its roots in the 1870s when the Pawnee were forced by the U.S. Army from their home in Nebraska to Oklahoma. The corn they carried with them didn’t thrive in its new environment, and the last remaining kernels were stored safely away decades ago. Now, thanks to 17 gardeners across Nebraska, the corn has been saved from extinction.

Brentzel drove in the posts that defined the Pawnee garden and planted, fertilized and watered the corn that grew in it.

“I learned a lot about caring for a garden and what goes into it,” he said of the three gardens. “That’s the main thing.”

Brentzel’s interest in the environment goes back to a childhood of hunting and fishing. “I’ve lived in the outdoors my entire life,” he said. “It’s a passion I’ve always had.”

His interest in the environment took a back seat, however, when he enlisted in the U.S. Marines after graduating from Northwest High School in Grand Island. During his six years in the service, he was a member of the Marine Honor Guard in Washington, D.C., and an infantryman at Camp LeJune in North Carolina.

It was while he was in North Carolina that he went back to school, enrolling in Asheville-Buncombe Community College in 2014. He moved back to Nebraska in the fall of 2016 and took general education classes at Ƶ in the spring of 2017.

As an adult, he’s come to realize how important the environment is. That’s why he has since moved on from Ƶ to the University of Wyoming in Laramie where he’s working toward a bachelor’s degree in energy management and development.

Susan Zierlein (June - November 2016)

Susan Zierlein brings a love of learning and an inquisitive mind to the Ƶ environmental sustainability intern program.

She attends the Columbus Campus where she’s working toward an information technology program certificate, but because she lived in Grand Island before moving to Columbus in 2009, she already had experience with Ƶ. 

She has an associate’s degree in psychology from Ƶ-Grand Island and has completed the college’s nursing assistant and medication aide courses. She also has a bachelor’s degree in health and human services from Bellevue University. And she’s studying for a real estate license. 

It was an email invitation to all Ƶ students that led her to apply for an environmental sustainability internship and to be offered a position as a student Intern. 

“I learn a lot,” she said about her role in researching how to make compositing a reality on the Columbus Campus and to improve the recycling program throughout Ƶ. “We need to educate people not to throw trash into the recycling bin because then the recycler has to toss the whole thing out.” 

She said her work as an intern has changed some of her own behavior when it comes to sustainability. “I think twice when I go to buy something or when I’m about to throw something away. I try to buy products with less packaging, and I’ve even been known to pick up trash at other people’s homes.” 

Researching sustainability issues is an interesting pastime for Zierlein, but one dominated by an unpleasant truth. “We produce enough waste to fill five planets, and we have only one.” 

Still, she reaches for the positive aspects. “We can teach people what they can do to lessen their impact on the planet, and we can keep working on creative ways to address our environmental problems.” 

Zierlein has two children: Kate Wright, a student at the University of Wisconsin, and Josh Moore, who lives with his dad and attends an Ohio high school.


Benjamin Newton
Environmental sustainability director