Beginning with the 2009-2010 school year, Skutt Catholic leadership, in conjunction with the alumni association, established the Outstanding Alumni Award. This award recognizes an alum who has lived the Skutt Catholic motto of going out and “Making a Difference” in the lives of others. Initially, this award was presented at Angel Flight, the name given to Skutt Catholic’s largest annual fundraising event. However, Skutt Catholic’s leadership felt it was important for the graduating seniors to be present for this honor. As a result, the presentation of this award has been moved to the baccalaureate mass held in May of each year.
Skutt Catholic is proud of the success and accomplishments of so many graduates. It is a privilege to recognize those graduates who have excelled in their respective careers, with this award.
Nominations are now being accepted for this year’s Outstanding Alumnus or Alumna Award, and will be announced at Skutt Catholic’s BaccaIaureate Mass. If you would like to nominate a Skutt Catholic alumnus or alumna for this year’s award, please click HERE to complete an online nomination.
Please read about Skutt Catholic’s Outstanding Alumni Award winners below.
Skutt Catholic president, Jeremy Moore, presented the award during the baccalaureate mass and senior award ceremony on July 17 at Christ the King Catholic Church. Rachel spoke to the graduating seniors about gratitude and challenging themselves to take risks. She gave a special thanks to her parents and SC Coach Keith Engelkamp for the impact they have had on her life.
The 2019-2020 Outstanding Alumna Award Winner is Rachel Balkovec ‘05. She has just entered her first year as a minor league hitting coach with the New York Yankees. Rachel is the first woman to hold that title in the history of professional baseball and is joining three other women that will be in uniform this season in various roles.
In 2005, Rachel Balkovec graduated from Skutt Catholic, where she was played softball and her interest in a career in sports was born.
According to Rachel, the coaching she received from Coach Engelkamp and Coach King were paramount in shaping her ideas of what a coach should be like.
“I take some of their coaching styles in developing relationships with players into my own philosophy right now,” she said.
Rachel joined the Yankees after completing her second master’s degree in biomechanics and statistics in the Netherlands. While in Amsterdam, she served as an assistant hitting coach for the Netherlands national softball and baseball programs and went on to complete her research at the world-leading baseball performance research facility in Seattle, Driveline Baseball.
Previously, Rachel was in several roles with the Houston Astros’ strength and conditioning department. She completed the 2018 season with their AA affiliate, Corpus Christi Hooks, and served as the Latin American Coordinator in her first two years with the organization.
The first time Rachel made history in professional baseball was in 2014 when she was hired as the first full-time female strength and conditioning coach in MLB in the role of Minor League Strength and Conditioning Coordinator for the St. Louis Cardinals. She also worked in apprenticeship roles for Louisiana State University, the Chicago White Sox, Arizona State University, Los Tigres Del Licey Beisbol, and EXOS early in her career.
The Omaha native is a former NCAA Division I softball catcher and has a special interest in organizational culture and behavioral psychology in relation to coaching. She has an undergraduate degree in exercise science and a master’s degree in sports administration from Louisianna State University.
Ultimately, Rachel says her goal is to be a general manager of a professional baseball team. She also wants to create schools for young women both domestically and globally centered around creating empowerment through sport and education.
According to Rachel having the opportunity to attend a school with service-minded values set her off in the right direction.
“My parents raised me like that and going to Skutt was another stop on my journey that was consistently showing me examples of contributing positively to your community and to the world,” she concluded.
Rachel’s parents are Jim and Bonnie Balkovec. Her sisters, Valerie ‘08 and Stephanie ‘02, are also Skutt Catholic graduates.
The 2018-2019 Outstanding Alumna Award Winner is Jessica Smith Charlsen ‘00. She was the first of her siblings — Mike ‘03, Katie ‘05, and Maggie ‘10 — and 14 cousins to attend Skutt Catholic, with the youngest, Luke Lanik, graduating this May. Following graduation, Jessica attended the University of Kansas where she earned a degree in strategic communications and met her husband, Adam.
After several years of working with a respected advertising agency in Kansas City, they welcomed their first child, Maddie. After Maddie arrived, Jessica and Adam relocated to Omaha. Adam and Jessica now have three kids, Maddie (9), Will (6), and Olivia (4).
While raising a young family with her husband, Jessica continued growing her marketing career in both corporate and ad agency worlds. Even though she had moved back home, Jessica continued to feel the conflict between the demands of her professional and personal lives. Instead of accepting that status quo, she decided to find a way for professionals to have it all – pursue the career you love AND have time for the life you want.
Jessica teamed up with another mother of young children, Jina Picarella, Ph.D., to create a new business aimed at solving this dilemma – Job Share Connect. Jessica and Jina were accepted into the Omaha Chamber’s Startup Collaborative and awarded a First National Bank FinTech $10,000 competitive grant to help grow their business.
Making a difference by using her unique gifts to make a positive impact, while raising good humans, are two things Jessica says she strives to do every day.
“The foundation I built at Skutt Catholic set me up to believe that anything is possible with hard work, a positive attitude, and prayer,” she said.
“I am grateful to be among the first classes to graduate from the school and enjoy watching the continued success and growth of the dynamic SkyHawk community.”
The 2017-2018 Outstanding Alumni Award Winner is Justin Zabawa. His passion and commitment to Skutt Catholic led him to a career at the school, where he currently serves as the boys head soccer coach, assistant athletic director, and full-time teacher in the physical education department. He is also the alumni chair for the current capital campaign.
According to Skutt Catholic President Jeremy Moore, Justin Zabawa is more than a teacher and coach.
“In his short time as a member of the faculty, Justin has quietly earned the trust, respect, and love of his colleagues,” Moore said.
As a student, Justin participated in student council, swimming, wrestling, basketball, and tennis. His passion was, and continues to be, soccer. He was a key contributor to the SkyHawks state championship soccer team during his senior year.
Following graduation in 2003, Justin attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he continued playing soccer through the university’s club program, and earned a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology. Justin felt called to the teaching profession, and went on to earn a Bachelor of Education, specializing in K-12 Physical Education and Coaching, through the University of Nebraska-Omaha. Continuing his education, Justin earned a master’s degree in educational leadership from Creighton University in 2018.
His first teaching job was at St. James/Seton School, where he taught 4th grade, before joining Skutt Catholic. Justin served as the assistant boys soccer coach for four years before he was promoted to the head coach position in 2013. In 2015, he was brought on as a full-time teacher in the physical education department.
Being a SkyHawk is a family tradition for the Zabawas; all of his siblings attended Skutt Catholic as well. His parents are Dave and Randi Zabawa, and siblings are Nicole ‘01, Luke ‘09, and Rachel ‘11. Justin and his wife, Erin, have two sons, Memphis, 7, and Cruz, 5.
Our 2016-2017 Outstanding Alumni Award Winner, Colleen Burke Davis, is currently an Assistant County Attorney at the Burnet County Attorney’s Office in Burnet, Texas.
In 1998, Colleen graduated from Skutt Catholic, where she was on the Varsity Swim Team, served as Varsity Cheerleader, participated in Forensics and was the Vice President of the National Honor Society.
Colleen accepted a scholarship to Rockhurst University in Kansas City, where she graduated Summa Cum Laude from the Honors program with a BA in Political Science and French, with a minor in Philosophy. She served as the Student Activities Board President and on the Executive Board of her Sorority, Zeta Tau Alpha. Colleen also founded the Pre-Law Society with her roommate. She was a member of the Jesuit National Honor Society, Alpha Sigma Nu, and the French National Honor Society, Pi Delta Phi. During this time, Colleen met her husband, Howard, and they married on July 27, 2002.
Colleen attended The University of Texas School of Law in Austin, Texas where she became Editor-in-Chief of the American Journal of Criminal Law and worked as a Research and Teaching Assistant for the Dean of the Law School. She also participated in the Criminal Defense Clinic and clerked for the Travis County Judges. Colleen graduated from law school in May 2005 and was sworn in to the State Bar of Texas in November.
Working for a Criminal Defense firm, Colleen had the opportunity to work on the team that defended the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Tom Delay. She then worked for a short time as a consultant for the Texas Department of Transportation.
In 2012 Colleen accepted a position as an Assistant County Attorney and currently serves as the Chief Criminal Prosecutor. She oversees all criminal trial work for Burnet County, serves as the Juvenile Prosecutor and assists in representation of the Department of Family and Protective Services. She is President of the Board of Directors of CASA for the Highland Lakes, and also volunteers at the Hill Country Children’s Advocacy Center, the Rotary Club Adoption Day, her home parish of St. Helen’s and at her children’s’ school and activities.
Colleen and her husband, Howard, live in Georgetown, Texas with their proudest accomplishments— children Alexander (10) and Victoria (8). As much as she enjoys her career, nothing makes Colleen happier than being a mom.
Capt. Daniel Hatz is the Chief Surgical Resident for orthopedics at Southern Illinois University. Capt. Hatz graduated from Skutt Catholic High School in 2002. During his high school years, Danny, as he is most often referred, played football, participated in speech, powerlifting, and was involved in theater. He was also elected Mr. SkyHawk during his senior year.
Danny’s parents are Steve and Pam Hatz. He followed his brothers Nick, class of 1997, and Matt, class of 1999, in becoming a SkyHawk, and his younger sister Melissa, class of 2003, followed them all. For the first 12 years at Skutt Catholic, there was a Hatz family member in attendance. Danny and his wife Lauren currently reside in Springfield, Illinois.
After his graduation from high school, Danny graduated cum laude from Drake University with a Bachelor of Arts in Biochemical, Cellular, and Molecular Biology. He went on to complete his medical doctorate at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, and his surgical internship through the University of California at Davis/Travis Air Force Base. After attending flight surgeon school at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, he was deployed to Kunan, South Korea, and Guam, flying F16s for the United States Air Force.
Capt. Hatz has an impressive list of honors, awards, medical publications and professional memberships. He is proud to be a SkyHawk and has truly been Making a Difference in the lives of others.
Skutt Catholic is proud to present Christopher Wolfe, MD as the recipient of the 2014 Outstanding Alumni Award. Angel Flight’s Expect a Masterpiece selection committee sought nominees who achieved excellence in their profession/craft. Dr. Wolfe’s efforts, to help his patients see the world and all its beauty through better vision, inspired his nomination and selection.
Dr. Christopher Wolfe is a 1999 graduate of Skutt Catholic High School and a 2003 graduate of the University of Nebraska at Omaha, where he received a Bachelor of Science degree majoring in biotechnology with a minor in chemistry. In 2008 Dr. Wolfe graduated Summa Cum Laude from Northeastern State University Oklahoma College of Optometry. During his education, Dr. Wolfe received extensive training in all aspects of primary eye care: including eye infections, cataracts, diabetic eye care, specialty contact lenses, and pediatrics. He completed an internship at BVA Advanced Eye Care in Tulsa, OK where he gained specialty training in minor surgical techniques, as well as therapeutic laser ocular surgery. Dr. Wolfe won the Golden Retinoscope Award, the Oklahoma College of Optometry’s highest distinction for clinical excellence. Dr. Wolfe also served as president of the American Optometric Student Association, where he represented over 6,000 members. Currently he is a member of the State Government Relations Committee of the American Optometric Association and is the Legislative Chairman for the Nebraska Optometric Association (NOA) and serves on the Board of Directors for the NOA.
Dr. Wolfe and his wife, Jaime Ammons Wolfe ’00, have six children – daughters Ryan, Paityn, Camryn, and Logan, and sons Lincoln and Deacon.
Skutt Catholic is proud to present Rachel Twist as the recipient of this year’s Outstanding Alumni Award. Angel Flight’s Celebrare! committee sought nominees who personified the spirit of Skutt Catholic High School. In years past, the committee has looked all around the world to find our award recipient, but sometimes one simply has to take note of the exceptional work being done by someone in the most obvious place of all – our own backyard.
After graduating from SC in 2006, Rachel went to Wayne State College as a Secondary education and Spanish major. She participated in in the women’s soccer program for four years. She graduated in May 2011. Rachel married SC alum Bryson Twist, ’04 in July of 2011 and one month later she began her teaching career as a Spanish teacher at Skutt Catholic High School.
Rachel has been actively involved in many activities at the school that promote social justice. She has chaperoned three service trips with students, two to the Rosebud Reservation and one to Puerto Rico. She helped start a weekend service trip within Omaha, it is now known as SkyHawks in the City. She co-sponsored the Habitat chapter that won the school of the year award for 2012-2013! She has traveled to Guatemala for the past two summers to work in our sister school, as well as spending time volunteering with the Guatemalan population in Omaha. She has coached girls soccer for the past two years; winning a state championship this year.
Rachel states, “I owe so much of who I am to Skutt Catholic. The lessons that are taught within this school are invaluable. While I never really mastered the whole algebra thing, I know what it means to be a Christian leader. I continue to see what it means to be a teacher who empowers others as I watch my co-workers lead their students to success everyday in the classroom and in various sports and activities. I learned how to promote justice through our service trips and try to give that opportunity to our current students. I know that I can initiate change by reaching out to one student at a time because that was the example set for me. To be considered an outstanding alumna is humbling because I know that I am only one of thousands who make a difference on a daily basis. Thank you all for this honor, thank you for supporting this incredible place, and thank you believing in the mission that Skutt Catholic promotes. I am so very proud to be a SkyHawk.”
Please help us congratulate Rachel Twist and thank her all she has done and continues to do for Skutt Catholic High School!
Skutt Catholic is proud to present Kathleen Merkel as the recipient of this year’s Outstanding Alumni Award. Angel Flight’s Under Southern Skies committee sought nominees who devote their time and talent to serving others. Kathleen’s inspirational story of re-defining her dreams to focus on her passion for traveling and her desire to make a difference in this world by helping others has made her the perfect fit!
Kathleen, a graduate of the class of 1998, works for Catholic Relief Services, an organization whose mission “carries out the commitment of the Bishops of the United States to assist the poor and vulnerable overseas.” This past summer marks Kathleen’s fourth year working with CRS. In that time, she has worked alongside some of the best minds in humanitarian relief and development. With teams of people from all different religious, cultural, socioeconomic, and ethnic backgrounds she lends a hand to various communities’ own efforts to improve the lives of their children, neighbors, and themselves.
Through her job with CRS Kathleen has lived in Bangladesh, Cambodia and Kyrgyzstan and traveled to Thailand, China, Laos, and Myanmar. She works as a program manager who advises local organizations on best practice in management of humanitarian programs. Through her travels, Kathleen has witnessed hospitality from people around the world who invite her into their communities and homes and make sure she is safe, protected, and well fed.
Whenever she is able to spend time at home with family and friends – many of whom she went to Skutt Catholic with – she feels lucky and is grateful for the people and the place that first taught her the importance of making a difference. Thank you Kathleen, for living the mission of Skutt Catholic every day and for sharing it with the world.
Angel Flight 2011 – New York Nights, An Evening for Excellence leadership sought an alum who had achieved excellence in his or her professional endeavors. The selection committee identified Kathryn Dempsey for her work in Bioinformatics. Below are excerpts from the Angel Flight 2011 program book reviewing Kathryn’s many achievements made since graduating from Skutt Catholic.
Skutt Catholic is proud to present Kathryn (Kate) Dempsey ’03 as the recipient of this year’s Outstanding Alumni Award. The Alumni Committee for Angel Flight 2011 – New York Nights, An Evening For Excellence sought nominees who have achieved excellence in their professional endeavors and Kate’s vast accomplishments have made her the perfect fit!
Kate graduated from the University of Nebraska – Omaha in 2007 with a B.S. in Bioinformatics. While attending UNO, Kate was a UNO Regents Scholar, a Walter Scott Scholar, and an IDeA Networks for Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) Scholar. Kate credits these scholarship programs for launching her into her research activities today.
Kate’s research involves understanding the mechanisms behind the aging human body, which is an area of some of science’s most compelling research today. Currently one of the most promising aspects of research in aging is in the field of preventative medicine. For this prevention to occur, researchers must first identify the mechanisms that cause the cell, and ultimately the body, to age. Kate is working with data provided by laboratories at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and Creighton University to understand those mechanisms.
Kate has been published as a first and second author on multiple works relating to her research; current works in publication include a chapter on original research investigating inner ear protein function within silico analysis and a paper at the annual HICCS Conference in Hawaii regarding how network theory can be applied to understand mechanisms behind aging. Her research has taken her to conferences across the country, including San Diego, Washington D.C., Niagara Falls, Boston, and Santa Fe.
Kate is currently working toward her doctorate in the Pathology and Microbiology Bioinformatics Specialty Minitrack at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. This year she enters her sixth year as an active member of the UNO Bioinformatics Research group, and continues work on multiple projects relating to emerging frontiers in bioinformatics.
As a SkyHawk, Kate participated in golf and JV soccer. She was also a member of the National Honor Society, competed in Science Olympiad, and served others as apart of Operation Others. Today, Kate remains active by running. She ran her first half marathon in May 2009 and since then has competed in four half marathons and one full marathon. She is currently training for the Omaha Half Marathon that takes place on Sunday, September 25.
Please help us congratulate Kate Dempsey. We honor her for promoting the values of Skutt Catholic, serving as an inspiration to others, and making a significant contribution in her chosen area of expertise!
Angel Flight 2010 – Jazzed Up for Green leadership identified Charles Olson as an alum that was truly “jazzed up” for Skutt Catholic. No other alum filled the description better than Charles. Here is what was written about Charles in the Angel Flight 2010 program book describing why he deserved the honor.
When thinking about this year’s Angel Flight theme Jazzed Up for Green, Angel Flight volunteers, SC faculty, staff and alumni could think of no one more jazzed up for Skutt Catholic than 1998 SC graduate Charles Olson.
Since his days as a student, football player, and wrestler here at SC, Charles has been an instrumental part of the Skutt Catholic community, involved with nearly every facet of school’s operation and mission &mdash all while serving as the Vice President of Operations at OCI Insurance and Financial Services here in Omaha and somehow making time for his wife, Jen (a 1999 SC graduate), and their daughters, Addison and Ellie.
What does being Jazzed Up for Green mean?
For this year’s recipient it means being so involved in SC that we don’t even have the space to name it all. Currently, Charles serves on the SC Board of Directors, providing insight and guidance from an alumni and young professional’s perspective. Many of you may recall that for a number of years, Charles coached football at SC, assisting with both the freshmen and varsity teams. In 2002, Charles worked tirelessly to lay the foundations for an alumni association at our school. He served as the Association’s first and founding president and continues to be involved with the Alumni Association’s activities.
Day in and day out, Charles promotes and shows his jazz for Skutt Catholic. Constantly searching for and recruiting future Skyhawks, Charles is truly an outstanding alum of our school and embodies all that it means to be a Skutt Catholic Skyhawk.
Please help us congratulate Charles Olson and thank him for being Jazzed Up for Green!
Angel Flight 2009 – Passport to the World leadership sought an alum who had achieved excellence in his or her endeavors and who had reached out, beyond the borders of the United States, to make a difference in the world. John Fredrickson’s efforts to test for HIV in African children made him the obvious choice. John was the first Skutt Catholic alum to receive the Outstanding Alumni Award. Below are excerpts written about John highlighting why he was chosen to receive the honor.
After John Fredrickson graduated from Skutt Catholic in May of 2005, he moved to New York City to attend New York University’s Silver School of Social Work. During his sophomore year of studies, John studied abroad in the west African nation of Ghana. While there, he interned at the West Africa AIDS Foundation, assisting in a poster competition at local schools to help reduce stigmas associated with HIV/AIDS. Upon completion of his studies, John extended his stay in Ghana to help pilot a high school program in the annual Pan African Film Festival, which highlights documentary films made by Africans throughout the world. He returned to NYC that fall to continue his studies. After his junior year, he returned to Africa, but this time to the east African nation of Tanzania, where he interned at an international street children’s home. While in Tanzania, he advocated for and helped coordinate an initiative to have all of the children within the organization tested for HIV. By the end of the summer, every single orphan within the organization had been tested.
Upon John’s return to NYC, he secured an internship at Harlem United, a community-based HIV/AIDS agency. He interned there for the remainder of his time at NYU, and was hired by the agency upon his graduation in May 2009. He was selected by NYU to represent the graduating Social Work class on stage at the NYU commencement, where he received his bachelor’s of science alongside Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Today, John is a Columbia University graduate student, where he is pursuing a master’s of science in Advanced Clinical Social Work.