VALPARAISO — Wendy Berdovich said her daughter, Jordan Berdovich, an Indiana University junior, has always had lofty goals.

"She always said she wanted to become a rocket scientist when she grew up," Wendy Berdovich said.

Her commitment to reaching goals, leadership ability and strong compassion for others all were part of the reason Berdovich, 20, was named one of the "21 Under 21" award winners at a event held May 19 at Ivy Tech Community College.

The Valparaiso High School graduate completed 80 clinical hours while attending the Porter County Career and Tech Center to become a Certified Nursing Assistant, also volunteering with health related screenings at local elementary schools.

"I always knew I liked science. I was trying to get as much experience as I can," Berdovich said.

Berdovich, upon graduation from IU, hopes to enter either medical or graduate school to become a doctor or go into pharmaceuticals.

The "21 Under 21" event was put on by the Works Council of Northwest Indiana, with the goal of recognizing outstanding students in career and technical education, many of whom combined real-life work experiences with their high school educations, said Kris Emaus, council chairwoman.

The Works Council has focused on four skill areas to produce the trained workforce employers will need in Northwest Indiana, Emaus said. Those areas are construction; health care; mechanical and electrical; and transportation, distribution and logistics.

"It's all about helping kids find their passion in life earlier," Emaus said.

Prior to the awards presentation in the auditorium, honorees and their family members and friends gathered for a light dinner served buffet-style.

Ben Tomera, one of the honorees, came with his parents, John and Sandra Tomera, and grandmother, Helen Tomera.

"He's done very well. He's a go-getter," Helen Tomera said of her grandson.

Tomera, now employed as a station manager at Blue Island Television, graduated from Highland High School as the only student who had earned a Technical Honors diploma.

The Technical Honors diploma was received by Tomera from the Area Career Center of Hammond.

"I had a really good experience at the Hammond career center," Tomera said

Tomera, who graduated from Tribeca Flashpoint College in Chicago last year, credited Robert Love, a former instructor at the Area Career Center of Hammond.

"He was great. I learned a lot from him," Tomera said.

Tomera and Berdovich were just two examples of Career and Technical Education students at the event who filled their high school days with hands-on learning experiences in fields such as welding,farming, marketing, teaching, nursing, machining, law enforcement, culinary arts and others.

Some, like honoree Katlynn Surfus, are making history.

Surfus, who attended Starke Co. Initiative for Lifelong Learning Center, is the first Indiana student and woman in the district to be awarded the American Welding Society scholarship only 15 months after starting the program.

She has been accepted into Ironworkers Local 292 and was selected to move her apprenticeship to the Cook Nuclear Plant, officials said at the event.

Former Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann, recently named the ninth president and first female leader of Ivy Tech Community College, served as keynote speaker.

Ellspermann congratulated the 21 young people for their early successes.

"You will be building the fabric of Indiana's tomorrow," Ellspermann said.

Ellspermann is scheduled to officially begin work as president in July.

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