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Creighton Taps Four as Spirits of Creighton

Creighton Taps Four as Spirits of Creighton

A graduate of the College of Business imbued with a spirit of determination, optimism and service and three medical school graduates who helped establish a free medical clinic serving Omaha’s homeless, uninsured and underinsured, received the Spirit of Creighton Award at spring commencement on May 10 at the Qwest Center Omaha.

Joseph Ortega, BSBA’08, a finance and accounting major from Aurora, Colo., was presented the Spirit of Creighton Award during the morning ceremony. Justin Birge of Omaha; Jacob Smeltzer of Derby, Kan.; and Mary (Maggie) Skrypek of St. Paul, Minn., received the award during the afternoon ceremony. Since 1949, the Spirit of Creighton Award has been given annually to graduating students exemplifying the best qualities of the University’s founders. Recipients are honored for their initiative, enterprise, academic achievement and outstanding character traits.

In addition to holding a 4.0 grade-point average, Ortega has been highly involved during his time at Creighton. He served as president of Creighton’s chapter of Beta Alpha Psi, the accounting honor society, and vice president of Creighton’s chapter of Beta Gamma Sigma, the international society for business students and scholars. He also was a senior leader for Creighton’s Ratio Studiorum freshman orientation program, a four-year participant in the Anna Tyler Waite Leadership program, and a walk-on with the baseball team for two years.

Ortega also reached out in service to the community. He was co-director of the Youth Leadership Omaha program, cosponsored by the AIM Institute and the College of Business. As an intern with Qwest Communications, he organized Phones for Life, a project through which donated phones were distributed to the elderly, the disabled and victims of domestic abuse. Ortega also established the Paul S. Ortega Foundation in his grandfather’s name. The non-profit organization is dedicated to supporting and assisting the elderly in their daily lives. He is also active in Campfire, Inc., especially mentoring at-risk Hispanic youth. He has interned in the office of former President Bill Clinton in New York, as well as in the office of Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.). Ortega plans to attend law school and pursue a career in politics.

Medical graduate Birge, Smeltzer and Skrypek were instrumental in establishing the Magis Medical Clinic at the Siena/Francis House in 2004. The student-run program serves more than 1,500 medically underserved patients annually. Medical students and physician volunteers work with other organizations to provide acute care and follow-up, physical exams, lab tests, medications, specialty clinics and referrals.

As fundraising director for the Magis clinic, Birge raised more than $450,000 through grants, private donations and events over the past three years. He also served on the School of Medicine Student Advancement Committee and was his class vice president for two years. Birge has been active as a volunteer with Paws for Friendship, a pet therapy program, and Body Basics, a community program teaching Omaha grade-school children about anatomy and physiology. He has been inducted into the prestigious Gold Humanism Honor Society for his integrity, compassion and altruism. Skrypek has served as director of the Magis Clinic, coordinating other officers and managers, writing grants, and representing the clinic to the Omaha community. She has also been very active in Creighton’s Institute for Latin American Concern (ILAC) and Creighton United in Relief Assistance (Project CURA), service programs that bring free health care and health education to underserved populations around the world.

Skrypek has served as a volunteer with an Omaha pediatric tuberculosis clinic; Siena/Francis House; Habitat for Humanity; and Project Suds, a community program teaching Omaha children proper hand-washing techniques.

Smeltzer has volunteered his time to such organizations as Magis Clinic (including a year as director), Siena/Francis House, One World Community Health Center, Body Basics, and Project Suds (organizer and volunteer). At Siena/Francis House, he organized an ongoing program through which ConAgra Foods donates bread to the shelter. He was one of only three Creighton third-year medical students to be inducted into Alpha Omega Alpha (AOA) Medical Honor Society, and he served as co-president of AOA’s Creighton chapter. He has been inducted into the prestigious Gold Humanism Honor Society. In 2006, Smeltzer’s class awarded him an Aesculapian Award for his guidance, compassion, and selfless service to the class, community, and the University.

Creighton University is a Jesuit, Catholic university bridging health, law, business and the arts and sciences for a more just world.