Recognizing Young Nebraskans

Young Nebraskans Week awards celebrate talented, influential young Nebraskans who are making a positive impact in their workplaces and communities. Awards are presented by Connecting Young Nebraskans and the Nebraska Department of Economic Development.

Presented By


Young Professional of the Year Award

A young professional who takes unusual or extraordinary measures to positively impact their community while balancing work, family, and life. This young professional demonstrates qualities from all of the Young Nebraskans Awards categories.


 Sam is the General Manager at Preferred Popcorn in Chapman, Nebraska. He works right beside every member of the team – from those packing bags – to those meeting with customers around the world. He cares deeply about each employee. He knows their families – asks about their kids- and works hard to make sure that Preferred Popcorn is a place where everyone thrives. Sam led the team who designed a $7 million expansion to Preferred Popcorn’s current Nebraska headquarters, doubling manufacturing capacity and increasing organic production. When COVID hit, he worked with the sales team to launch new sustainable packaging using post-recycled consumer content. Sam believes that sustainability is very important to who Preferred Popcorn is overall. He states, “as a 100% farmer owned company, we want to be sustainable because we believe in taking care of the land as much as possible.” Sam also lead the facility selection, and has overseen the construction and design of a new popping facility and a second location in Waco, Nebraska. Sam serves as a youth soccer coach, guest pastor, and board member for the Merrick Medical Foundation, Merrick County Economic Development Board, National Popcorn Board and Nebraska Christian Schools Advisory Board. Sam says, “I believe that people in Nebraska are incredibly smart people. They are hardworking, resilient, thoughtful, and they care about doing things the right way. So much so that they can have a place at the international table regardless of what industry it is… and I hope that demonstrates not just to Nebraska – but to the world that there are great things in this place and we have an awful lot to be proud of.”

Honorable Mention: BRENT COMSTOCK – Founder & CEO of BCom Solutions in Lincoln, NE.

Community Involvement & Impact Award

A young professional who has made significant contributions to the community through civic engagement, board or committee work, involvement with charitable organizations – and whose pioneering work and vision is impacting their community for the better.


Joseline is the Community Liaison Department of Justice Accredited Representative with Multicultural Coalition in Grand Island, Nebraska. She is originally from Mexico and came to Grand Island when she was 9 years old. She attended the University of Nebraska – Lincoln where she studied criminology and criminal justice. After college she moved back to Grand Island and continued her work in the nonprofit world. She has been with Multicultural Coalition since 2018. Growing up Joseline never saw anyone in a higher position that looked like her – so she made it her goal to be a role model to other young Latinas in her community. She makes it a priority to be visible to the community by being transparent and sharing her story, and she encourages others to do so as well. Outside of her community involvement through her position at Multicultural Coalition – Joseline serves as a mentor through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Nebraska. She says, “it was important to me that the board represented the kids that they serve – its important for the littles to know that there was someone in that mentor spot that looks like them. She is also involved with New Leaders Council, Young Professionals – Grand Island Chamber of Commerce, along with a variety of other organizations. Joseline lives her life by the moto: “I will not wait for others to step up and do the work; I will step up and do the work, paving the way for others to do so as well.”

Honorable Mention: KELSEY STEVENSON – Owner of Salon 31 in Holdrege, NE.

Entrepreneurship & Innovation Award

A young professional who has brought an innovative initiative, product, or service to the market in an original way. This award aims to recognize achievers, innovators, and makers, who have contributed significantly towards the development of a new business or idea.


Cody is the owner of Cody’s Computer Repair Service in Central City, Nebraska. What started out as a $15 newspaper ad – and an idea for a high school summer job – has since turned in to a full fledge business. Cody’s Computer Repair Service started out serving 100% local need in Central City. But now they service about 14 states – and have customers who travel from Lincoln, Omaha, Kearney, and Hastings to receive their service. A few years ago, Cody and his team came up with the manage service 1 to 1 model. This is a subscription-based service that allows the team to maintain and monitor a customer computer wherever they are. The service provides cybersecurity, updates, proactive maintenance, and a variety of other features. This model has since taken off and provides service for about 850 members. Cody and his team truly believe it’s not tech support – its people support. Cody states, “The customer comes first, the dollar comes second, and its 100% about the customer experience.” Cody’s ultimate dream for the business is to be big enough to provide but small enough to care. His encouragement for young entrepreneurs in Nebraska is to recognize that you can have a very successful career exactly where you are at. “You don’t have to leave – you can stay here and have a community that backs you up and supports you, and you won’t find that kind of community anywhere else.”

Honorable Mention: GRAHAM PANSING BROOKS – Co-Founder & President of SEAchange in Lincoln, NE.

The New Nebraskan Award

A young professional who has made significant contributions to the state of Nebraska through their professional achievements and community involvement. This individual is not a Nebraska native but has adopted Nebraska as their home state, and has brought new business, culture, and innovation to their community.


Laban is the Co-Founder and CEO of Zabuni Specialty Coffee Auction in Grand Island, Nebraska. Laban is originally from Nairobi, Kenya home to 4.5 million people. He came to the U.S. to attend college in California – then moved to Texas, and then to Kansas. While living in Kansas he met his wife Cora who was teaching in Omaha. The couple got married in 2006 and moved back to Cora’s hometown of Aurora, Nebraska in 2011. Laban has a passion for connecting and for giving people a voice who never had one before. These two passions bridged together with Zabuni Specialty Coffee Auction. Zabuni’s story began when coffee farmers in Kenya reached out to Laban and Cora seeking a solution that would enable them to continue to produce coffee, but also earn a livable wage and be able to provide for their families. Zabuni Specialty Coffee Auction facilitates the direct trade of specialty coffees to roasters through in-person and online auctions. They are the first regularly scheduled auction in the world to exclusively offer on-site, specialty coffees. Their mission is to provide a platform where roasters gain efficient access to high-quality coffees, while farmers are empowered and given a voice like never before by acting as their own brand ambassadors and receiving a better return. Laban says that his years in Nebraska have been his most rewarding years. He states that, “the most rewarding part about this journey with Zabuni has been the relationships. I’ve loved meeting people and finding things that impact or add value both to my community here and to my country of origin where I was born. People knowing that they are making a difference thousands of miles away when they buy a bag of coffee is very special.”

Honorable Mention: JESSICA KRAUSE – Owner of Lost Way Brewery in Holdrege, NE.

Leadership & Professional Development 

A young professional who has shown extraordinary leadership skills in their role while acting as a role model and inspiring other young professionals in their community. This individual dedicates a generous amount of time to the personal and professional development of their coworkers, peers, and overall community.


Kelsey is the Chief of staff with Carson Group in Omaha, Nebraska. She grew up in Gibbon and attended the University of Nebraska – Kearney where she played volleyball and studied business and economics. After college she moved to Lincoln where she worked for a few years until accepting a position with Carson in 2008. Since joining Carson she has risen in positions, from Director of HR, VP of Talent, and now Chief of Staff. As Chief of Staff Kelsey oversees talent, human resources, and corporate communications. She focuses heavily on the culture of Carson with a strong emphasis on inclusion and diversity and has been instrumentals in hiring, training, and educating more than 250 employees. She also makes sure that all strategic and special projects are being taken care of. The most current of these special projects being the completion of Carson’s new $80 million building. Kelsey was responsible for overseeing the construction, design, and development for this building. Day-to-day, Kelsey focuses on Carson’s diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. She was essential in establishing Carson’s IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Education, Action) Council, and last year she helped found the FinServ Foundation – a nonprofit empowering the next generation of financial professionals through coaching, mentorship, and community. She also helped create Carson’s mentorship program to further advance women’s professional development. Kelsey believes that the number one quality in a great leader is empathy. She believes that mentorship is an important way to help you learn and grow – and she applauds leaders who focus on developing those around them and building others up.

Honorable Mention: JUSTISE RHODEN – Executive Director at the Aurora Chamber of Commerce

2021 Young Nebraskans Award Winners

Young Professional of the Year

Samuel Krug – General Manager at Preferred Popcorn in Chapman, NE.

Community Involvement & Impact

Joseline Reyna – Community Liaison Department of Justice Accredited Representative with Multicultural Coalition in Grand Island, NE.

The New Nebraskan

Laban Njuguna  – Co-Founder and CEO of Zabuni Specialty Coffee Auction in Grand Island, NE.

Leadership & Professional Development

Kelsey Ruwe – Chief of Staff with Carson Group in Omaha, NE.

Entrepreneurship & Innovation

Cody Lawson – Owner of Cody’s Computer Repair Service in Central City, NE.

2020 Young Nebraskans Award Winners

Young Professional of the Year

Jordan Lambrecht – Managing Partner at Pixel Bakers Design Studio in Lincoln, NE.

Entrepreneurship & Innovation

Rachel Daly – Owner of Innovative Rx Compounding Pharmacy in Kearney, NE.

Community Involvement & Impact

Itzel Lopez – VP of Advancement and Community Relations with the AIM Institute in Omaha, NE.