Archdiocese Local Schools Youth & young adult

Donnelly SHINEs light on outstanding students

Peilong Zhou, from China, shares his story with the audience at SHINE. Zhou will graduate from Donnelly next May with an associate’s degree.

by Jill Ragar Esfeld

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — SHINE is not just the name of Donnelly College’s annual celebration and fundraiser; it is the college’s goal for every student that walks through its doors.

There is no greater proof of the achievement of that goal than the discussion panel of students highlighting each SHINE event.

This year’s panel was led by Donnelly president Msgr. Stuart Swetland and consisted of students Aly Mponezya, Ada Sanabria, LaCherish Thompson and Peilong Zhou.

Mponezya is from Tanzania and said he had found a home at Donnelly. He’s currently in the nursing program.

“I’m gong to graduate in two months, with honors,” he said.

He attributes his success there to the “brilliant staff,” and said he loved the small community that creates an environment conducive to studying.

Sanabria was born in Honduras and came to the United States when she was five. She’s now 19 and on scholarship at Donnelly, pursuing a degree in business.

“What I love most,” she said, “I get individual attention every day from every instructor in every class.

“That helps me be a success.”

Thompson is a Kansas City, Kansas, native who came to Donnelly with the intention of getting an associate’s degree and then leaving.

But, she said, “the faculty and staff saw something in me I didn’t see in myself.”

She is now pursuing a bachelor’s degree and balancing her studies with the responsibilities of being student body president.

At Donnelly, she has discovered that she’s a leader. And she loves leading students who are so diverse.

“It’s like a storybook here, with so many people from different backgrounds,” she said.

Zhou was born and raised in China. His family came to the United States seven years ago.

“When I first visited [Donnelly],” he said. “I loved the diversity — that’s the value that first captured my interest.”

Indeed, Donnelly has made the news recently as topping the U.S. News and World Report list of the most ethnically diverse colleges in the Midwest.

“I’m proud to say I’m part of the diversity,” Zhou told the audience at SHINE. “What is unique is the closeness between students and faculty.

“I can get individual instruction from professors.”

He also appreciates the impact Donnelly has had on his spiritual life.

“The Mass we have every day — other colleges don’t have that,” he said. “It has helped me grow my relationship with God.”

All four students have ambitious plans for the future.

Zhou will graduate with an associate’s degree next May and then hopes to attend an international business program at Avila University in Kansas City, Missouri.

“Donnelly has all the opportunity here for me,” he said. “I just have to take the initiative to show up.”

Thompson looks forward to getting her master’s degree in education administration.

“Donnelly has helped me see I am a leader,” she said.

Sanabria’s long-term goal is to be the CEO of a company, but even imagining such a high goal wouldn’t be possible without an education.

“Without the financial assistance at Donnelly,” she said, “I wouldn’t be in college right now.”

Further proof of the college’s success came as alumni were inducted into its hall of fame.

Dr. Ahmed Awad came to Donnelly College in 1984 as part of the English as a Second Language program.

As one of this year’s inductees, he spoke to the SHINE attendees about how Donnelly not only helped him learn English, but also gave him his first taste of French fries and his first lessons in baseball.

Awad went on to medical school and is a nephrologist in Kansas City, Missouri.

“This college offered me an opportunity to pursue my dreams,” he said.

George Breidenthal, who was inducted into the hall of fame posthumously, got his associate’s degree from Donnelly College in 1969.

He went on to become a successful banker, civic leader and board chair of Donnelly College.

The third inductee, Dr. Liza Rodriguez, also came to Donnelly College as part of the English as a Second Language program in 2001.

Father Michael Hermes, who accepted the award for Rodriguez, said, “Instructors awakened in her a passion to become a nurse.”

Rodriguez received her associate’s degree in science from Donnelly, and then went on to graduate from Avila with a degree in nursing and from Kansas University with a doctorate in nursing.

Clearly, Donnelly College is a place where students can shine.

In the college’s 2017 graduating class, 92 percent were students of color and nearly 80 percent were the first in their families to graduate from college.

These success stories wouldn’t be possible without generous donors who help Donnelly keep its promise of a quality, affordable Catholic higher education for anyone who wishes to pursue it.

As Sister Esther Fangman, OSB, said during the opening prayer for SHINE, “God has done great things for Donnelly College.

“We are filled with gratitude and joy.”

About the author

Jill Esfeld

Jill Ragar Esfeld received a degree in Writing from Missouri State University and started her profession as a magazine feature writer, but quickly transitioned to technical/instructional writing where she had a successful career spanning more than 20 years. She returned to feature writing when she began freelancing for The Leaven in 2004. Her articles have won several awards from the Catholic Press Association. Jill grew up in Christ the King parish in Kansas City, Missouri; and has been a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa, Kansas, for 35 years.

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