The Doane Difference
Three graduates of the College of Professional Studies share their stories of pursuing higher education and finding professional success.
By Rebecca Svec
Jeff Bliemeister ’15A had no plans to leave his job with the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office when he enrolled in the College of Professional Studies. He wanted to get a master’s degree and continue teaching criminal justice at the college level.
Jeanne Borer Pashalek ’85, ’10A wasn’t looking for job change either. She was in the midst of a successful career with Lincoln Fire and Rescue but felt a master’s degree could help her be a better leader.
Connie Hultine ’14A was looking for change. After 20 years in corrections and drug court roles, she thought it might be time to move on.
So how did graduate education turn out for them?
Each earned a Master of Arts in Management degree, and doing so pointed each in a new direction, giving them the confidence to apply for roles they wouldn’t have before.
Bliemeister is the chief of police in Lincoln now.
Pashalek was promoted to battalion chief in human resources at Lincoln Fire and Rescue and later retired as the highest-ranking woman in the department.
Hultine stayed after all, and advanced to chief probation officer in her district.
Their stories show the power of the College of Professional Studies. All were successful before they enrolled, yet they were enriched professionally and personally through their studies. Their degrees led them to new leadership roles in the public sector.
And they have something else in common: They highly recommend Doane’s adult learning options to others looking for change through education.
Let’s back up.
Away from the office with its sweeping view of 10th Street, back to a dreary autopsy center in the former Lincoln General Hospital.
That’s where Lincoln Police Chief Jeff Bliemeister’s law enforcement career began—a career to which he did not aspire.
Jeff had an undergraduate degree in biology and dreams of medical school. When his application to medical school went to a waitlist, he took a job as a phlebotomist and autopsy assistant to gain lab experience. There, he met police officers and sheriff’s deputies investigating death cases.
He liked the glimpse into their world, so he turned in an application to the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office. That turned into a job as a deputy in 1996, which turned into many other roles and promotions, until he became the police chief of Lincoln in 2016.
Along the way, he met his wife, Roni, they had two daughters. And before he knew it, medical school wasn’t his dream anymore.
It’s important to look back and see that unassuming beginning and timeline of continuous advancement.
That’s who Jeff is: steady, solid, always wanting to improve, always moving forward, said close friend and longtime co-worker Todd Duncan, now chief deputy in the Sheriff’s Office.
Todd has known Jeff every minute since they were fellow rookie uniform patrol deputies.
“Every day, Jeff makes a difference—never a showy splash—but a difference,” he said. “He’s that guy with his nose to the grindstone every minute. ... That perseverance and commitment got him where he is today, and he makes everyone around him better along the way.”
Jeff started work on his Master of Arts in Management degree simply as a way to improve. He liked being chief deputy in the Sheriff’s Office.
“I had no intention of leaving the Sheriff’s Office at the time,” he said. “My real goal was to be able to instruct at the college level in areas of criminal justice. I’d done that on an ad hoc basis and wanted to continue.”
But the degree opened up doors he hadn’t expected, as he guesses it does for many people.
“The growth attained from pushing yourself outside of where you are comfortable in life—especially if you are trying to balance a family, job, and other responsibilities at the same time—you never know where that experience is going to bring you.”
His graduate degree put him in the running for police chief, he believes, and it equipped him with the insight to lead an organization of 470 employees who serve more than 280,000 people and respond to 120,000 calls for service each year.
In the early years of his career—especially his time on a joint narcotics task force (still a favorite period of work)—his vision of what an officer did revolved around investigations, drug seizures, patrols, and arrests.
Now he’s in charge of law enforcement’s big picture: fleet garages and employee unions and the annual dance between budget line items and taxpayer dollars. While officers use technology such as body cameras, he is behind the scenes sorting through the issues that accompany them: What about digital storage? What kind of expertise is needed in-house to utilize the technology?
Twenty years of experience has shown him the most powerful tool in law enforcement is often dialogue, a tool to which he used often in his first year in an urban police environment.
“I was immediately immersed in a year of violence in Lincoln that included a record number of homicides (11), coupled with one of those being officer-involved, which is thankfully a rare occasion in Lincoln and Lancaster County.”
The national focus on law enforcement, officer shootings, and race relations added another layer of complexity to his watch.
“Because of everyone who worked in this agency and the leadership that came before, there is an excellent foundation here and a willingness to question what we do, why we do it, and ways to improve it,” Jeff said of LPD.
The MAM curriculum also was invaluable, he said, particularly a cultural diversity course and a conversation with Leadership Faculty coach Dr. Helen Fagan.
They talked about the importance of developing positive relationships with people from diverse backgrounds outside of the law enforcement setting. And even more importantly, he said, pausing, “recognizing that I cannot see life through the same lens they see.”
That statement still resounds, he said, and he strives to apply it. His speech on the steps of the Lancaster County courthouse to participants in the Black Lives Matter March in July 2016 is a powerful example.
“Bliemeister stood earnestly before the crowd with words of affirmation, saying, ‘Law enforcement must be the example and not the exception,’” the Lincoln Journal Star reported at the time. “I’m excited to be a part of difficult but courageous conversations in order to build relationships with all of you so our agency can know your thoughts, your concerns and your expectations.”
He said he’s found that Lincoln is a diverse, vibrant, and growing city—perhaps more so than its average resident realizes.
“My first goal is to build legitimacy and trust with citizens, to take input from everyone who lives and works here, to try and make the best decisions possible.”
Jeff encourages Doane students to consider careers in law enforcement.
“If (students) have an interest in law and a service mindset, come talk to us. We’ll show you the good and the bad.”
In his opinion, Lincoln offers a lot of the good.
“It’s impossible to replace that passion that people have here for the good of their neighbor and the city as a whole,” he said. “… Tragic things do occur in Lincoln, unfortunately, but people are willing to talk to us and share in the ownership of their safety. In cities our size you don’t see that all the time.”
In his experience, it may only take a small glimpse into law enforcement to become hooked.
“Even when I entered, I did not think it would be a career. Now as I look back, it’s humbling. I’ve had this opportunity to impact the lives of people in a small way and make a small impact on the quality of life in this city.”
In 2016, Jeanne Pashalek looked out from the podium in Cassel Theatre at the newest graduates of the College of Professional Studies.
You won’t know the crucial, intangible skills Doane taught you until you leave, she told them, as the featured commencement speaker.
“The critical thinking, the problem solving, the relationship building … it becomes visible when you apply it to life.”
Jeanne honed those skills throughout her 25-year career with Lincoln Fire and Rescue. She was its third female hire, its first female officer, and its highest-ranking woman when she retired in 2015 as a battalion chief in human resources.
The Master of Arts in Management degree she earned at Doane University, she said, “really helped me figure out who I was as a leader and how you influence and relate to people. And it opened my eyes to an area I didn’t even know I was interested in (human resources).”
Today, she gives back to Doane as a member of its Alumni Council and mentoring program, sharing knowledge and networks from her career.
Jeanne came to know Doane—and Doane, Jeanne—over three decades of her life. She arrived at the College of Arts and Sciences a spitfire fresh out of Norfolk High.
When she entered Doane’s graduate program, she was an accomplished professional much closer to the end of her career than the beginning, looking for something bigger than titles on a résumé.
“As an undergrad, I almost liked Doane too much,” she recalls, sitting at the kitchen table of her farm-style home near Firth with golden retriever Teddy resting on the wide plank floors beside her.
“It was a perfect fit, a community with all the support you could ever need. I didn’t want to leave.”
Graduation came in 1985 anyway, and she planned to apply her degree in natural science to physical therapy. When she didn’t find a graduate school opening, she went directly to work in a clinic and quickly reached a foregone conclusion: “I hated it.”
The structure seemed confining, she said. She was a spontaneous person happiest outdoors. (Being a forest ranger was her dream job.)
Jeanne returned to Doane seeking a teaching certificate. Then a friend mentioned an opening with Lincoln Fire and Rescue. At first blush, firefighting may sound like an odd suggestion. Jeanne is a slim 5-foot-6, and firefighting was, and is, an overwhelmingly male career.
Look more deeply, though, and the logic emerges. She grew up as a free spirit, keeping up with two older brothers. Her parents supported in whatever she wanted to try. The only “no” she remembers came when she asked to follow her brothers into Cub Scouts.
Jeanne became a firefighter in 1990 and a firefighter paramedic in 1996. She loved the no-two-days-alike atmosphere and the camaraderie, interaction with the public, and adrenaline rush of calls.
Promotions followed every few years, which doesn’t surprise Dana Miller, Doane’s director of Developing Leader Coaches capstone program and Jeanne’s faculty coach.
“Jeanne is an incredibly hard worker—dedicated and tenacious … genuine and authentic,” Miller said, and she has integrity and earns the trust of people who get to know her.
Jeanne’s humor and emotional intelligence made her classes and cohort richer, Dana recalled. When she graduated in 2010, she received the Keith Berlage Memorial Award, given to graduates who exemplify its namesake’s “strength of character, determination, perseverance, and courage against the odds.”
Those traits were visible in her career. Jeanne advanced from a newbie swimming in firefighter gear meant for a much larger person to a battalion chief leading the battle against Lincoln’s costliest fire: the blaze that destroyed Lincoln Public School District’s administrative offices in 2011.
Her promotion to battalion chief leading seven fire stations was a defining moment—and it came with some challenges.
“It’s a male-dominated career, and tradition runs deep,” Jeanne said, noting that the resistance she felt as a female leader was not unique to Lincoln. “Less than 4 percent of firefighters in the country are women. When I first began there were so few female mentors and role models.”
Then former Fire Chief Niles Ford introduced her to an expansive group of female peers—the International Association of Women in Fire and Emergency Services—and Jeanne found her network of support. She also became the group’s president.
“I met people through that group from around the world. That organization is really focused on supporting women and changing the culture and policies to accept women, so that was rewarding.”
Jeanne did her own part to introduce change, said fellow firefighter Jamie Pospisil ’15A, a captain and 13-year firefighter with Lincoln Fire and Rescue.
“She created a path for women in fire service here,” Jamie said.
Jeanne worked to make the firehouse setting better for women, she added. She brought up such issues as the need for increased privacy provisions, maternity leave, and breastfeeding.
“You could also see that passion she had for recruiting females and minorities to improve diversity.”
The two women did not work together daily, but one conversation led Jamie to her own MAM degree in 2015.
Jeanne said MAM's introspective view helped her in relationships with co-workers.
“The management style and curriculum really identify who you are. ... The final capstone course takes you deep into your childhood, reflecting on the people who influenced you and how it shaped your life. It was overwhelming and tremendously powerful.”
Today, Jeanne is enjoying time with her husband, Jay, and visiting their children and grandchildren. She is outdoors as much as possible, immersed in their acreage and garden.
She also raises chickens and is starting a hobby business making chemical-free soap, showing that even in retirement, she is committed to “learn, grow, and become her best self.”
When Connie Hultine enrolled in the Master of Arts in Management program, she wanted a career change and the achievement of earning a graduate degree.
After 20 years in corrections and drug court roles, she thought it might be time to change gears, and the moment she received her diploma in 2014 was satisfying.
But on the career front, she found she might be right where she belongs.
Her MAM studies reinforced that Connie is research-oriented and continuously curious about human behavior and what makes people tick – good qualities in her field.
“So even though I was looking for change, instead, I just went deeper in the door,” she said, laughing.
Just a few months after completing her degree at Doane University's Grand Island campus, she took on a new role as chief probation officer for District 9, which includes Grand Island and Kearney.
“There are a lot of moving parts, and we (staff) are in the middle,” Connie said of her work.
On any given day, the number of juveniles on probation in the district approaches 200; adult numbers are close to 1,300. The district’s 64 staff members are tasked with supervising high-risk clients, client release, case management, and referrals into reporting centers and treatment programs. Officers also facilitate group sessions, home, employment or school visits, and family team meetings and office visits.
Connie is at the center of it all, making sure staff members have the necessary tools to do their jobs and that good processes are in place and followed. She directs supervisors and staff and identifies needed programming.
Connie is the face of probation at community meetings. She also keeps the district staffed, one of the most time-consuming parts of the job.
“(Probation officer) is a hard job,” she said. “This is a tough population of people to work with.”
Connie works to find people who can juggle many tasks at once, not only monitoring, but matching treatments and support groups to individual probationers.
At reporting centers, classes range from life skills like parenting to treatment addressing trauma.
“Probation has moved way down the road from monitoring people to actually providing services for people,” she said. “Overall, we always want to teach to behavior. Otherwise, people will have the same struggle later. We want to give them the best chance possible to stay out of the system.”
Probation officers need another crucial quality: the resiliency to start again if the client goes back into the system.
“If they leave our program and are not charged with a crime again, we feel like we’ve done our job,” Connie said.
But she and her staff also celebrate the smaller forms of success.
“So if a mom can’t pay rent and then obtains custody of her children and can pay rent, that’s a success. If we see a parent who used (drugs or alcohol) and now has children in a sober environment, that’s a success,” she said.
A child getting to go to school for the first time, a client using coping skills to avoid illegal behavior—it all falls in the success column.
“We celebrate along the way. People need reinforcement.”
Connie began her role at the same time Nebraska legislative bill 561 brought major reform to the juvenile probation system. She needed reinforcement herself that year, she recalled.
“It was a pretty major reform; a push to try to keep kids at home and use community services versus detention.”
Even though Connie stayed in the corrections field after earning her degree, her job as chief probation officer was a change. She had put her bachelor’s degree in psychology and criminal justice from the University of Nebraska at Kearney to work at the Hastings Correctional Center and in private community corrections, followed by 14 years as coordinator of the Central Nebraska Drug Court.
She had some fears about returning to school. Would she have enough time for studies, work, and family? She and her husband, Marc, have two sons who are still in school.
Doane came highly recommended, though, by Pete Kortem ’08G, ’10A, fellow Hastings resident and Hastings chief of police, who earned his own MAM degree.
Also fortuitous, the late Janice Hadfield, who led Doane’s Lincoln campus for 29 years, was her first professor.
“Can you imagine how phenomenal that was that I started with her? After that, I took one class at a time and never felt overwhelmed.”
Connie found the leadership component of MAM to be the most influential, forcing her to look inward.
“I was middle-aged, and it forced me to reflect back on life a bit ... on core values ... on why I do what I do.”