First-Generation College Student Credits D.J.’s Hero Awards for Opening Educational Doors

Feb 15, 2023

As a youngster, Jesstina “Tina” McGee didn’t grow up in a household where college was expected or talked about.

It wasn’t until she was placed with her foster parents that she really started to believe she could pursue a college education.

Her foster mother, Lisa, was not only an Air Force veteran but also earned her master’s degree.

She encouraged Tina to go after her dreams of working in medical technology – and she’s also the one who motivated her to apply for The Salvation Army’s D.J.’s Hero Awards.

“I had heard about them (the awards) on the radio, but it was Lisa who really pushed me to apply,” said McGee, a first-year student at Methodist College studying to be a cardiovascular sonographer. She transferred after getting her prerequisite classes finished at Metro Community College last year.

During her senior year at Plattsmouth High School, Tina was selected as a 2021 D.J.’s Hero Awards recipient, which gave her the funds necessary to attend school. She already had the grades.

Growing up, she wanted to be involved with the medical field in some capacity, possibly as a nurse or doctor.

“I loved watching medical shows, and that put the idea about doing something with medicine in my mind,” she said.

When she learned about cardiovascular sonography – where health care professionals are specially trained to use imaging technology to produce echocardiograms that help physicians diagnose heart problems in patients – being able to use technology and still be patient-centric appealed to her.

The results of the echocardiogram – which are moving 2- or 3-D images of the heart and its chambers – give cardiologists a look inside the patient’s heart, allowing them to be able to diagnose an appropriate treatment plan.

“A lot of people have heart attacks and strokes, and through my work, I’ll be able to use technology to check people for blood clots and other potential problems that could cause them in the future,” McGee said. “Pre- and post-diagnosis can help save lives. That’s why I’m going into this work.”

Her current courseload includes human anatomy 2, Spanish and medical law/ethics, and she’s on course to earn her B.S. in 2025 or possibly earlier.

“I get the opportunity to work in a clinical setting my second year, and my fourth year, I’ll be working in a real-time environment while finishing my degree and placed in a job before I graduate,” she said.

Ultimately, McGee said she wants to work in a hospital setting and be a traveling medical professional – an opportunity to see the country while doing what she loves.

And she said she strives every day to be a motivator for her younger brother and sister to also think about education beyond high school.

“I’m a first-generation college student in my family, so I want to set a good example,” she said. “This opportunity to attend college thanks to the D.J.’s Hero Awards and other aid is opening doors for me that I don’t know would have been there for me. I’m very grateful for everything.”

To nominate a student or apply for the 2023 D.J.’s Hero Awards, please visit The deadline to apply is March 8.

Recent Stories

Get Involved
Share Your Story

We would love to hear about your experience with The Salvation Army.

Share My Story


A gift to The Salvation Army helps someone in your community.

Give Now



Do Good in your community

Find Worship

Join us throughout the week for worship, fellowship, Bible study, meals, community service and fun.