Meet Carlos Posas ’21, Alexis Oldham ’18, Jackee Jones ’20, Jake Wegner ’21 and Sierra Illa ’19. They’ve each faced more than their share of challenges during their Central student years with determination, grace, gratitude—and the support of the Central community.
WRESTLING THE DREAM
Carlos Posas ’21
Hometown: Madera, California
Major: Business (undeclared)
Challenge: Heart surgeries
Carlos Posas ’21 takes down change like a champ. He left his native California to wrestle in Iowa, “the wrestling state” he now calls home. In his first year at Central, he wrestled behind three-time all-American wrestler C.J. Pestano ’19 at 125 pounds. Even two childhood open heart surgeries and the prospect of a third don’t stymie Posas’ enthusiasm for the “eye-opening educational experiences” he’s had living halfway across the country in a new climate while pursuing a degree in business.
“Having heart surgery has taught me so many ways to push through and prove people wrong. My parents told me to pick the college that was best for me because wrestling could be taken from me at any time,” Posas says.
His early surgeries to fix leaky heart valves have allowed him to remain healthy and cleared for competition. But Posas also knows competition will come to an end for him sometime in the future after he has a needed heart valve replacement. Meanwhile, he says, he’ll wrestle as long as he can.
“Carlos’ perseverance speaks volumes about his character,” says Eric Van Kley, athletics director and head wrestling coach. “He’s found a home away from home at Central and models daily the values of our wrestling program.”
The business major wants to own his own clothing brand or coach wrestling and eventually return to his West Coast extended family.
“My path here has been up and down, but wrestling has gotten me through a lot. I can try new opportunities here and the people are awesome. My Journey Scholarship makes attending college possible and helps fulfill my dream of wrestling at an Iowa college,” he says.
“Wrestling has gotten me through a lot.”
— CARLOS POSAS ’21
A triple major became a quadruple challenge when Alexis Oldham ’18 added parenting duties two weeks into her second year. “I thought I would have to leave Central because there was no way I could afford college and raise a baby without my family nearby. Central reassured me it would do anything in its power to help me stay in school,” she says.
She and fiancé Carlos Hernandez ’14 began to raise their son, Liam, while Alexis continued classes and Carlos worked at Pella Christian Opportunity Center.
Time management was a constant struggle. “I wanted to make sure I had time with Liam and still maintain my course schedule,” Oldham says. “I made it work with the help of many people at Central.”
Liam, now 2, has been a regular at what he calls “Mommy’s school,” where professors and students recognize him.
“My professors are proud of me for raising my son. That’s motivated me to stay. The financial aid office helped, and my parents have been very supportive too.”
— ALEXIS OLDHAM ’18
Amy Young, associate professor of German, credits Oldham’s determination for making it work. “Obstacles don’t stop her. If something doesn’t work the way she planned, she makes a new plan,” Young says.
Hernandez agrees. “She’s a really determined person. She did her best, even when she had doubts, and I’m really proud of all she’s accomplished.”
“With the scholarship I received, I decided to accomplish another of my college goals—a meaningful abroad experience,” Oldham says. “A two-week spring break option to study in Germany and Poland made that last box on the checklist possible.”
Oldham, Hernandez and Liam live in Leighton, Iowa, near Pella. Hernandez, a biology graduate from Phoenix, is a blending technician at Ajinomoto in Eddyville, Iowa. The couple is planning a Mexico wedding in November and a career—and eventually, graduate school— in chemistry for Oldham.
She smiles broadly as she sums up her four years: “I haven’t missed out on anything I planned to do. And I will raise my son to be beyond appreciative of generous people like those who have helped me along the way.”
WE LIFT THEM UP
“We don’t want our students to fall before we lift them up,” says Charlie Strey, dean of students. Whatever challenges they may face “the level of collaboration and cooperation across campus helps us identify student needs early,” he says. “We know our students and know if changes need to be addressed—maybe even before the student knows it. Often, at larger schools, students have to take the initiative to identify the problem and find the services.
“Our student staff is often the first level of contact, followed by professional staff in counseling and Student Support Services,” Strey adds.
Two licensed professional counselors, who are part of the student development staff, provide mental and emotional health counseling as part of student fees. A robust Campus Ministries program also plays a role, and campus safety services help support students with disabilities.
Jackee Jones ’20
Hometown: St. Louis, Missouri
Co-curriculars: The CALM, Fred’s and APO
Challenge: Losing her parents in ninth grade
Jackee Jones’ ’20 dream to open her own theatre company seemed distant from her south St. Louis roots. Even college appeared out of reach when both her parents died during her ninth-grade year. Jones moved in with older siblings and even lived on her own for a while as she transitioned between public high school and Grand Center Arts Academy, a performing arts high school where she was among the first graduates.
“I come from a very poor background,” she says. “I didn’t think I could afford college. The Journey Scholarship to Central was the deciding factor.”
Jones’ love of theatre—“where I can be anything I want”—started with an interest in television and production. At Central she has been a hair and makeup person, prop master, assistant stage manager, stage manager and actor. Soon she’ll direct as well. She’s also a student manager at Fred’s in the Maytag Student Center, involved in intercultural and Greek life, Campus Ministries and The CALM.
“You have to look past difficulties,” she says. “Anything is possible but you have to make it possible.”
Jones’ grit reminds Mary Jo Sodd, professor of theatre, of Bette Brunsting ’56, a legendary communications professor. Brunsting was known for challenging students with “Courage!”
“Jackee shows phenomenal fortitude and grace. She’s one of three or four students I’ve taught who embodies courage,” Sodd says.
Jones hopes to pursue her 10-year dream to open her own theatre company with a social justice emphasis. Eventually, she plans to earn a master’s of fine arts and help people find a love for theatre and the arts.
“I wouldn’t be where I am without Central’s professional advice and support. I am so grateful I am able to follow my dreams and make my parents proud,” she says.
BACK WHERE HE BELONGS
Jacob “Jake” Wegner ’21
Hometown: Bloomington, Illinois
Major: Exercise Science
Co-curricular: Fellowship of Christian Athletes
Jacob “Jake” Wegner ’21 battled cancer as a high school senior when doctors discovered and removed a 10-pound abdominal tumor before his senior baseball season.
The 6-foot-plus CrossFit fan was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a type of nerve tissue cancer, that returned with its own game plan after Wegner’s first semester at Central.
“I finished my first semester strong, went home for Christmas break, and during a check-up learned the cancer had relapsed in my right pelvic area and spine. I had to withdraw from Central and begin treatment right away,” he says.
For the next 15 months, Wegner endured chemotherapy, stem-cell transplants, proton radiation and antibody treatments, leaving him physically weak but still upbeat.
“I have a strong faith, a loving family, amazingly smart doctors and nurses and very supportive friends. I have been away from Central for awhile, but my friends, coaches, teammates and faculty have been with me through the entire journey,” he says.
The 21-year-old returned to campus in January 2018. The Curt ’88 and Mary Holden Blythe ’90 Scholarship, which assists students in adverse circumstances, continued when he returned to campus.
“I am back where I belong. Everyone at Central has been so incredibly helpful to get me back to this point in my life. I still have some leg strength issues, but I do physical therapy and work out all the time,” Wegner says.
He’s adjusted to many things since treatment, including not playing baseball this past season due to health complications. Still, he says, he always has felt like a member of the team, which held a fundraiser for him, and has found a “loving family on campus,” as a member of Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
“God has a plan. There’s a purpose to it,” he says. “I have a friend at home going through treatment. I tell him never give up—have a positive outlook.”
YOU MAKE IT POSSIBLE
Donor generosity made each of these students’ educations possible. Three of the students featured here received Journey Scholarships. The other two received endowed scholarships. Both types of scholarships are funded entirely by alumni and friends of the college.
“A Central education is the best gift any student can receive—our alumni are evidence of that,” says Sunny Gonzales Eighmy ’99, vice president for advancement. “Donors literally change their lives.”
Journey Scholarships are funded by annual gifts and are awarded to students with financial need. The average scholarship is about $1,000. The college invites Journey Scholarship donors who contribute $1,000 or more to an annual campus scholarship dinner to meet the recipients. To support a Journey Scholarship, visit www.central.edu/give. Every bit of your contribution will go immediately to students.
Endowed scholarships are established with contributions of $50,000 or more and generate proceeds that are disbursed annually. Endowed scholarships are often named for individuals and designated for specific purposes. To establish an endowed scholarship, contact Kathy Cashen Thompson ’87, major gifts officer, 641-628-5186 or email@example.com.
Sierra Illa ’19 puts her experience as a big sister to good use as a resident assistant in Graham Hall. The oldest of four daughters found her transition to college “intimidating at first” because, like about 30 percent of Central students, she is the first in her family to attend college.
“This was a big transition for my family,” she says. “The generous C.V. Starr Scholarship helped make the cost more affordable.”
Illa enrolled in Introduction to College Success, a course offered by Central’s Student Support Services, where she is now a student leader. SSS is a federally-funded program for first-generation/low-income students. SSS services include academic tutoring, advice and assistance for courses, information on scholarships and financial literacy, mentoring and individualized coaching.
Nancy Kroese, director of Student Support Services, says Illa’s first-generation status “has not limited her ability and desire to achieve and be successful. Sierra is the young woman anyone would want as a daughter or as an employee. She is kind, considerate and willing to share her talents. She is intelligent, responsible and has great integrity.”
The biology and Spanish major is interested in working in children’s physical therapy and injury rehabilitation. She’s testing her interest this summer by job-shadowing a physical therapist in her home state of Minnesota before investigating graduate schools.
Her warm smile reassures others but she admits she felt lost at first. She soon found that “professors want to get to know you and want you to succeed.
“Classes have been challenging,” she says. “But not beyond what I expected. Central makes it so easy to accomplish all that you want to.”
MIND (SET) OVER (ALMA) MATER
Why do students like Carlos Posas ’21, Alexis Oldham ’18, Jackee Jones ’20, Jake Wegner ’21 and Sierra Illa ’20 succeed at Central when, nationally, only half of students at four-year colleges graduate within six years?
Larry Happel ’81, Central sports information director, and Chris Hulleman ’93, a research associate professor in the Department of Educational Leadership, Policy and Foundations at the University of Virginia, address that question in an article in the online journal Behavioral Scientist.
The two used Happel’s award-winning story about Jaime Miranda ’18 and his journey from homeless youth to Central wrestling star as a case study. They credit Miranda and his family members, professors, coaches and teammates with cultivating a mindset of growth, purpose and a social connection in Miranda. Those qualities, they say, helped him overcome extraordinary challenges.
The parallels between Miranda’s story and the students featured here are striking. They suggest that Central’s success in cultivating such a mindset while imparting knowledge can be transformative.