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Observer Editor Wins Outstanding Student Award

Submitted by on May 20, 2024 – 8:19 pm
Kim Zappala '24

Kimberly Zappala ’24 (right) accepts award from Alumni Board President Jouel Gomez ’15 (left).

Kimberly Zappala, a resident of Haverhill and member of the Northern Essex Community College Class of 2024, has been named as this year’s Outstanding Student Award recipient. The annual honor, granted by the NECC Alumni Board, was announced during NECC’s spring commencement ceremony on May 18.

Zappala, who was lauded for her campus leadership, integrity, and commitment to amplifying the student voice, served as Editor in Chief and Opinion Editor for the NECC Observer. During her tenure, she focused on boosting the paper’s politics and current events content, believing that by providing a factual source of up-to-date information, she could better encourage active, informed participation in the national conversation. She considers this work a point of pride in her academic career.

“When students go to vote in November, I know that I did my best to provide them with honest information so that they can make informed decisions at the ballot box,” she says.

Her efforts have not gone unnoticed. Earlier this spring, Zappala received a prestigious honor from the New England Newspaper and Press Association, which awarded her with a second-place win for “best opinion page” in the Better Newspaper Competition for colleges and universities in New England.

In a letter of recommendation, journalism professor and Observer advisor Mary Jo Shafer emphasized Zappala’s impact on NECC.

“She exemplifies resilience in her dedication to her education,” Shafer says. “As a non-traditional older student, Kim is a role model to other students at NECC and highlights the impact NECC can have.

These thoughts were echoed by fellow nominator Kristen Arnold, director of NECC’s PACE Program, who shared that “the leadership [Zappala] has displayed on campus at NECC” made her “an excellent candidate for the Outstanding Graduating Student Award.”

Her journey to her role as a journalist and campus leader, Zappala says, has not been easy. Before attending NECC, Zappala often struggled to find her place academically. She eventually landed upon a career in hair styling, a role she enjoyed for over 18 years until a spinal condition prevented her from being able to stand for the amount of time the job required.

“I knew I needed to find a new profession, so I decided to enroll at NECC,” she says. “The decision to attend was one of the best things I could have done for myself.”

Zappala credits her success to the many faculty and staff members who helped her along the way, including nominators Mary Jo Shafer and Kristen Arnold, among many others.

“These people have given me the confidence I did not have when I started at NECC. Everyone here wants to see you succeed… I am grateful to them all.”

This fall, Zappala will continue her studies at UMass Lowell, where she will pursue a bachelor’s degree in journalism and political science.

The annual Outstanding Student Award recognizes the accomplishments of a graduating NECC student who has demonstrated an exceptional commitment to academic success, community service, and involvement with campus initiatives. Please visit the Outstanding Awards page to learn more about the Outstanding Student Award. Nominations are accepted each spring.