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Ávila O'Connor's commitment to career, community rewarded

GRAND ISLAND – It’s a coincidence, really, that Lisa Ávila O’Connor reconnected with Jennifer Worthington.

The Grand Island native finished her Bachelor of Science in Sociology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2008 and eventually returned to the city where she had met Worthington in high school through the Youth Leadership Tomorrow program.

Openings for careers in higher education were limited when Ávila O’Connor moved back to Grand Island. But it just so happened that Doane College’s School of Graduate and Professional Studies (GPS) – then in its eighth year in Grand Island – was looking for a services coordinator.

Maybe leaders are magnetic, because that’s exactly how their paths crossed again at the College of boundless opportunities.

Worthington, Doane’s campus director in Grand Island, hired her former mentee from the leadership program in 2011. And, just three years later, it looks like an awfully smart move.

“Since Lisa returned to Grand Island after college to work, I’ve noticed that she’s jumped right in and gotten involved in the community,” Worthington said.

Ávila O’Connor has immersed herself in her career, furthered her education through Doane and volunteered her time to community groups – all reasons why she was nominated for and ultimately selected to the Grand Island Chamber of Commerce’s Top 35 Under 35 for 2014.

“It’s a really nice honor,” said Ávila O’Connor, who noted that a formal reception for the honor is scheduled for March. “It’s an honor that I definitely did not expect.”

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Worthington, however, did. She nominated her services coordinator, who then had to fill out an application. After the chamber’s review, Ávila O’Connor was named to the city’s list of up-and-coming young professionals.

The award is a recognition that encompasses all she does in the Grand Island community.

As services coordinator, she is a jack-of-all-trades. That ranges from advising students, helping with FAFSA, ordering books, faculty relations and admissions.

“Lisa shows great compassion with our students,” Worthington said. “She works with every single one of them with whatever their need happens to be.”

She definitely understands where the students are coming from. Doane’s School of Graduate and Professional Studies – which also has locations in Lincoln and Omaha – caters to adult learners, who typically are balancing school with work and their home lives.

Ávila O’Connor happens to be one of them. She began the Master of Arts in Management program in August 2012 and is expected to graduate - already - in May.

“I like to go to class. I like to learn. The learning environment and discussions in class are a great fit for me,” Ávila O’Connor said. 

This comes on top of her responsibilities away from Doane, which includes membership in Grand Island’s Latino leaders group. Ávila O’Connor also graduated from Leadership Tomorrow, a nine-month educational program for adults with leadership potential, last April.

She credits Doane’s emphasis on lifelong learning – specifically the environment Worthington has fostered in Grand Island – as an integral part of her success and future in higher education.

“I feel very prepared,” Ávila O’Connor said. “Jennifer has helped me a lot with that, to give me the freedom to try new things. She’s always very encouraging.”

In turn, Ávila O’Connor’s community involvement shows why Doane is the College of building a better Grand Island, while her education continues to empower her.

“I definitely feel like I can make a better connection with our students here because I’ve experienced working full time and going to school full time,” Ávila O’Connor said.

“My education here at Doane has helped me understand my students even more.”