Jacob Zitterkopf knows about adversity. The third-year dental student, president of the Class of 2015 at the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s College of Dentistry, is one of only nine postgraduate students nationwide to receive the Horatio Alger Association's Dennis R. Washington Achievement Graduate Scholarship.
The Horatio Alger Association honors the achievements of individuals who have succeeded in spite of adversity. This is the second time Zitterkopf, a Scottsbluff native, has been singled out by the organization -- he received a Horatio Alger Association scholarship as an undergraduate student at Chadron State College, as well.
Zitterkopf's fellow scholarship recipients this year include students from Harvard, Stanford, Georgetown and Duke. He was awarded $60,000.
One of four children raised by a single father, Zitterkopf was only 21 when he was diagnosed with a rare form of thyroid cancer. An operation to remove a golf-ball sized tumor held the risk -- fortunately, not realized -- that Zitterkopf would be left without the ability to speak.
Despite that, Zitterkopf has gone on to brilliant academic success, finishing his undergraduate career as one of the leaders of his class and going on to distinguish himself as a student at the College of Dentistry. He credits his father, a retired superintendent of schools, with guiding him and his three siblings to academic and professional success.
If you ask Zitterkopf about overcoming adversity, though, he'd rather talk about his plans to help other people overcome adversity.
As an undergraduate at CSC, Zitterkopf developed a nonprofit organization, "Smiles Across Borders," which seeks dental products and financial support for dental mission services in less developed countries.
"My experiences have helped me realize that regardless of one's adversities, anything can be accomplished," Zitterkopf said. "Especially with the help of compassionate people."
At Chadron State, Zitterkopf was the president of the Student Senate during the 2009-10 school year and graduated summa cum laude and received the college’s Platinum Eagle Award for “distinguished leadership and service” during commencement in 2011.
John Reinhardt, D.D.S., dean of the UNMC College of Dentistry, calls Zitterkopf an outstanding student.
"I have been in academic dentistry for more than 30 years, and I cannot recall a single student, among the thousands that I have taught, who better exemplifies the Horatio Alger spirit of overcoming adversity to achieve," Dr. Reinhardt said. "The most exciting thing is that Jake is on track to do so much more."
—John Keenan, UNMC public relations