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Dalton student earns Congressional Award Gold Medal

February 26, 2017 GMT

Ethan Nelson, of Dalton, has recently achieved one goal that he worked for four years to achieve.

Nelson was named a recipient of a Congressional Award Gold Medal. This is the highest award for young people presented by the United States Congress.

Participants earn certificates and medals by setting and reaching goals in four program areas: volunteer public service, personal development, physical fitness and expedition/exploration.

Nelson was home-schooled and he has worked through different levels of the Congressional Awards throughout the years along with doing coursework.

Each level in the Congressional Award has different amount of hours to put in for public service, personal development and physical fitness.

He said the program makes sure a person is contributing to all areas of their life.

“There’s a bronze, silver, and gold certificate and bronze, silver and gold medal,” Nelson said, “You start at a bronze certificate and then work up to a gold medal.”

He said homeschooling has some challenges with being diligent because it is easy to slack off because parents are also teachers. But other than that, he said it’s a good experience.

“Because you get to pace yourself and I could go further in subjects like math that I couldn’t at high school,” Nelson said.

In each level of the Congressional Award, the student needs to do an exploration/ expedition in a historic place and keep a journal about that place.

To meet this goal for the gold Congressional award he went to Anchorage, Alaska, via the Alaska Highway.

When he got there, he did a lot of hiking and went to Denali National Park.

“It was kind of difficult but I enjoyed it. It was peaceful,” Nelson said.

For his public service hours, he donated time at the Sidney Public Library where he said he put in 300 hours of community service.

“I helped them organize books, clean, and keep their catalogs,” Nelson said.

He also has his own business called Nelsonart where he sells original artwork and note cards. He has held entrepreneurship workshops at WNCC and around the county telling people how to start their own business.

Nelson has also taught high school students how to start their own business and talked to students about business ideas.

He has done that at WNCC Career Day and business expos for students.

“I enjoy telling other kids about my experience and I’ve seen other people in Scottsbluff and the area start their own business so it’s nice to pass on that information,” Nelson said.

His business is still running but he has not done a whole lot with it since going to school.

He said he is most proud of meeting the physical requirements to achieve the Gold Medal in the Congressional Award.

“I’m kind of out-of-shape but because of this program I’ve had to discipline myself and go to the gym everyday, go work out,” Nelson said.

Nelson is the son of Gene and Ellen Nelson of Dalton

Nelson said his parents were always very encouraging and wanted him to take his first class at Western Nebraska Community College, a class in digital photography.

Nelson enrolled at WNCC when he was 15 and became a full-time student at 17.

When he became a full-time student, he took general courses like English, public speaking, calculus and a few computer science classes.

“I would definitely recommend it,” Nelson said, “I even met a few high school students who were enrolled, taking dual credit classes there.”

Nelson said it was definitely a challenge to guess what professors wanted and it was a lot different standards than his parents.

“It took a lot of effort to find out how to do well there,” Nelson said.

Nelson did graduate there with an Associate of Science in general studies. He is currently a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania and planning to double major in philosophy and cognitive science.

He is not sure what he wants to do for a career yet but he is already thinking about graduate school. He also might have an interest in going to law school.

The University of Pennsylvania is in Philadelphia and he said it was a big change for him.

He said some things are fun to him like figuring out how to use transportation. He is getting used to a different lifestyle than in Nebraska.

He thinks that going to school at a young age has helped him be able to learn the expectations in college courses. Learning about standards of different professors helps him now, he said.

Nelson will be recognized at the Gold Medal Ceremony in June 2017.

He is planning to go to the ceremony, which will be the second time he has been to Washington D.C.

The Congressional Award is open to all young American people age 14-23.