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Learn to Dream celebrates 10-year anniversary

Marisa Lee Calnan, Dawson Sessler and Leland Smith all knew early in their lives what careers they wanted to pursue. They’ve dreamt big since they were old enough to play doctor, swing a hammer or tinker with a computer.

Now those dreams are becoming a reality thanks to the Learn to Dream Scholarship at Southeast Community College. The scholarship is celebrating its 10-year anniversary in 2018.

Marisa Lee Calnan

Calnan is a senior at Lincoln Northeast High School and has attended The Career Academy (TCA), a joint venture between SCC and Lincoln Public Schools, for two years. She has chosen the Certified Nursing Assistant/Nursing pathway - a continuation of her longtime interest in the medical field. Calnan’s mother worked as a CNA.

“I want to be a doctor, specifically pathology. My mom helped me get started as far as being interested in this field. She’s always been really supportive - but I kind of want to one-up her,” she said with a laugh.

Calnan has received the Learn to Dream Scholarship both her junior and senior years. Without it, she said, she probably would not be able to afford to pay for the college credits she earns through TCA, even though they are offered at a discounted rate.

“One thing that scared me when I first heard about The Career Academy was that I knew it might cost money and my family has never been well off. I had my first job but I didn’t think I would be able to make enough to pay for the college credits I could earn,” she said.

Calnan said her “mind was blown” when she learned about the Learn to Dream Scholarship. She thanks the sponsors and everyone who makes the scholarship possible.

“I think that those people are awesome and that they should keep doing what they’re doing. It’s a really wonderful thing that children my age are getting these opportunities.”

Dawson Sessler

Sessler is a senior at Lincoln Southeast High School and has attended TCA since the beginning of his junior year. He’s in the Precision Machining pathway - a natural fit for someone who has always loved working with his hands.

“Growing up, ever since I was five years old, I was always building something with my dad, who worked in construction,” Sessler said. “When he was working on a project, I would help. I’ve always been hands-on.”

He’ll graduate high school this spring with a head start on college credit. He’ll continue his education next year at SCC and plans to graduate and begin his career in manufacturing by age 20 - “I can’t wait to get started.”

It’s a start on life that may have been stopped short if not for the Learn to Dream Scholarship. Last year his mother was diagnosed with cancer, which affected the family’s ability to pay for the dual credit portion of his schoolwork.

But then he was told he qualified for the scholarship.

“It really helped me and it really does help a lot of people,” Sessler said. “If no one got that scholarship it would be a lot harder for people to get a better education and get a better life.”

Leland Smith

Smith is a senior at Lincoln East High School and enrolled in the Info Tech Programming pathway at TCA. The Learn to Dream Scholarship has made it possible for him to pursue an education and eventually a career in computers - a lifelong passion.

“Quite honestly, Learn to Dream has made it possible for me to remain in attendance,” he said.

Smith will attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln next year and major in software engineering. After that, he plans to pursue a career either in that field or development operations, which combines networking and programming.

This is the second year Smith has received the Learn to Dream Scholarship.

“I can’t thank the sponsors enough. I’ve always loved computers but this gave me an opportunity that otherwise I wouldn’t have had,” he said. “I’m more thankful for and better prepared for college because of this.”


Published: March 12, 2018, Updated: March 12, 2018

“It really helped me and it really does help a lot of people. If no one got that scholarship it would be a lot harder for people to get a better education and get a better life.”

Dawson Sessler, senior at Lincoln Southeast/TCA, Learn to Dream Scholarship recipient