The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

Ethan Nelson: Not your average kid

Dalton teen honored with congressional award


Dawn Graves

Ethan Nelson of Dalton pauses for a photo on Tuesday. At 17, Nelson is already an accomplished artist, a published illustrator and an entrepreneur.

Ethan Nelson, a 17-year-old Dalton resident, has accomplished much to be proud of.

As an entrepreneur, an accomplished artist, a published illustrator and recipient of multiple awards for various accomplishments, one might presume that Nelson was snobbish and egotistical.

In fact, he's a humble, soft-spoken young man, grateful for the opportunities in life.

Home-schooled by his mother, Ellen, since the eighth grade, Ethan is now a high school senior. He gives a lot of credit to his parents for their support.

"They definitely encouraged me to do things," he said, "do things beyond my comfort zone."

Nelson has more than just a high school education under his belt, having attended WNCC in Scottsbluff and Sidney. His grades earned him a place on the Dean's List last year, as well as a spot on the President's List this year for his 4.0 grade-point average.

His efforts qualified him to be a Questbridge College Prep Scholar.

He considers his time at WNCC to have been very beneficial, especially as it prepared him for the summer classes he just completed at Harvard.

Yes, Harvard – the ivy-league university in Cambridge, Mass.

"WNCC is a really great – almost under-appreciated – college, because it's just so influential in the Panhandle," he said. "So many careers come out of there.

"All the professors there are just really motivated and really want to help the students out and get them jobs, get them internships," Nelson said. "It's just a really great place to go to college."

WNCC is also the college through which Nelson applied for and was awarded $1,500 by NASA to build robots.

Nelson's college experience has provided him with other opportunities he may not have had otherwise.

In flash animation class at WNCC, Nelson built an app – a game he named "Tower Defense." Later, he read about an app contest in the newspaper – the House Student App Challenge for Nebraska's Third Congressional District.

According to Congressman Adrian Smith's press release, the nationwide competition is "designed to promote innovation and engagement in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) among high school students."

"I submitted my little game," Nelson said, "and turned out I got first place."

Nelson's app is featured on the U.S. House of Representatives' website, and will be displayed in a U.S. Capitol exhibit. Nelson was recognized by Smith for his accomplishment.

This was not the first time Nelson was recognized by the congressman.

Earlier this year, Nelson was awarded both the Congressional Award Bronze Medal and won second place in the 2014 Third District Congressional Art Competition.

Winning the Congressional Award for Youth Initiative, Service and Achievement is no easy task.

A participant sets goals in four areas: voluntary public service, personal development, physical fitness and expedition/exploration, and dedicates a certain amount of hours to each activity to progress through different levels. To achieve bronze medal status, for example, Nelson had to complete at least 100 hours of voluntary public service over the course of seven months. Each activity requires the completion of a specific number of hours.

Nelson was able to meet with Smith at his Scottsbluff office to receive his medal.

"That was really exciting, to meet him and get the award," he said. "I was kind of nervous, too."

Another meeting with Smith occurred after Nelson won second place in the Congressional Art contest for his photograph entitled "Aviator," which is a multiple-exposure composition of a pilot's silhouette overlaid with an image of sunlit clouds.

"My mom saw the Congressional Art Contest online, so I submitted this one," Nelson said, pointing to the framed photograph. "I had taken it, I think, a few years earlier. And it turns out that Mr. Smith really likes flying."

The piece now hangs in Smith's office in Washington, D.C.

That contest is just one of many occasions when Nelson has won awards for his art. Other recent awards include Cheyenne County Art Guild Best of Show, the Hixson-Lied Award for Young Artists and Best of Show Youth Division at the Image Art Show.

To top it all off, Nelson has just been chosen as the Cheyenne County Art Guild's Artist of the Month for September.

It appears that Nelson could be accepted at his choice of any college after high school, but he hasn't quite made up his mind.

"I'm not completely sure yet," he said, "but I do have a few colleges picked that I'm looking at."

His choice in a college depends on a couple factors.

He would consider a school that is, he says, "well-rounded and has a lot of different programs, a lot of different types of students," as opposed to a college that only specializes in one discipline. He wants to be able to change his mind, if necessary.

Outside of academic pursuits, Nelson is deeply involved in 4-H. He believes it has brought him many opportunities to explore different vocational and avocational pursuits he may not otherwise have had access to.

"I can't really say enough how 4-H had really prepared me," he said. "It's just such a great program."

One of the benefits of Nelson's involvement with 4-H is the confidence and skills he gained to start his own business, Nelsonart, with his older brother Jake. Nelson markets and sells notecards and prints of their art, and has sometimes used the venture as a fundraiser for worthy recipients, such as the Sidney Public Library.

His notecards caught the attention of Charlotte Endorf, a Nebraska author who happened to be doing a presentation at the library. She asked if Nelson would illustrate her book, "Bless Your Hearts: The North Platte Canteen." About 20 of his illustrations were published in the book.

Nelson promotes entrepreneurship, speaking and presenting to kids at events such as Career Day at WNCC.

"I'll prepare a little presentation and just tell these kids how they can start a business, or get into the business that they want to be in," he said "Like, how to start out, how to get advice, how to promote your business."

An entrepreneur, an accomplished artist, a published illustrator and a recipient of multiple awards for various accomplishments – Nelson can claim all these, and more. But he wants kids to know that these opportunities are available to almost anyone.

"It's just to show that you can, through these programs, you can go pretty much anywhere that you want, or any career that you want," he said. "You're not just confined to a few careers or this region."

While Nelson isn't sure yet what he will end up doing in life, or exactly which career he will pursue, he does know that he wants to benefit others through it.

"I definitely want to be making a difference and helping people," he said.


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