Anna Wesch is on a mission to prove to her three children that, with a little hard work and determination, everyone can make a difference.
“I am a married mom of three, so obviously not a traditional student. This is my first college experience,” she said in a recent interview via videoconference. “My son is 24, and my daughters are 20 and 16. The older one has not gone to college yet, but I keep telling him, if I can do it, you can do it. This can be done. It can be difficult, but it’s a great experience, and I really appreciate it.”
As Anna works to set an example for all who dream of achieving their bachelor’s degree, hundreds of donors to the UNO Fund for Student Scholarships are setting an example, too. Their generosity allowed the University of Nebraska at Omaha to award Anna a scholarship this fall. She is one of 2020’s seven recipients of the scholarship, receiving financial assistance thanks to hundreds of generous alumni and supporters of the university.
“When I got the email that I received the scholarship, I was reading it and I was telling my husband, ‘do you think it’s real?’” she said. “I barely made it through high school, so to get something like that and be acknowledged for something like that, I was like, ‘I don’t know if this is real!’ So when I realized it was, I was super excited.”
While there are many scholarships at UNO, the UNO Fund for Student Scholarships is the only one that sees hundreds of alumni and supporters come together to make gifts — last year as low as $5 and as high as $5,000 — to give directly back to students. Thanks to UNO Fund donors, UNO was able to offer Anna a renewable scholarship to cover much of her tuition through her expected graduation in the fall of 2021.
Anna’s path toward that impending graduation date has been an unconventional one, but one paved with determination and grit. An Omaha native, Anna’s education journey started when got a job in the health office of an elementary school, going back to work once her youngest was able to go to preschool.
“I ended up really enjoying some of the kids that would come visit the health office that were from the special education room, so I asked to be moved,” she said. “I was a special education paraprofessional for about six or seven years. I did that while the kids were young, and then when my son was a little bit older and could help me with my younger daughters, I went and got a full-time job. I did that for a couple years, but I really missed the kids and the school community.”
Anna also felt that she could make an even greater impact on the lives of young students with special needs if she had her four-year degree.
“I kind of always thought about going to college, but I never was good in school, so I didn’t really know that it was something I could do,” she said. “Then my mother-in-law passed away, and then a year later my dad passed away. And I was like, ok, life is short, and if I want to do something, I have to do it. So I decided I would start taking a class at Metropolitan Community College, and if I made it through that class, maybe I would take another one, and then maybe I would take two classes. So I kind of started out that way, and then I was like ‘ok, now I’m here and I’m doing it, so I’m just going to keep going.’”
Anna pushed forward and made the transfer to UNO last fall. Today, she is working on her bachelor’s degree in education, studying in UNO’s early childhood inclusive program. Despite the added challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Anna said she has found the faculty, staff and students at UNO very helpful in navigating the program.
“The advisors at UNO have just been super awesome and super helpful,” she said. “The teachers have all been really great. I’ve had a really, really great experience.”
She is also grateful for the encouragement and support she’s received from her family.
“My husband has been my biggest supporter,” she said. “I would not have been able to even start on this path without his support.”
Anna also said she’s found inspiration from receiving the UNO Fund scholarship and knowing that donors both large and small have confidence in her and want to help her succeed.
“It’s just so unexpected,” she said. “I’m so very grateful, and it’s so very thoughtful to give something like that for people who are working toward their goal. It definitely helps to make things a little easier and makes it a little more like, ‘OK, I can do this,’ and to know that there’s people that believe I can do it too and make me successful, that’s just really cool.”
Soon Anna will begin her practicum, and she is excited to return to the classroom, as her true passion lies in the impact she can have on her young students.
“There’s a certain energy in an elementary school with kids, and it’s just so much fun, so I cannot wait to be back in a school,” she said. “I was doing some volunteer work, and then the pandemic hit, so I wasn’t able to do that anymore. I’m just ready to be back and helping and making a difference. Even as a para, you’re making a difference — it could be very small, but it’s amazing to be a part of. I’m ready to be doing that again.”
If all goes according to plan, Anna will graduate with her degree in December of 2021. With this degree, she’s be qualified to teach both regular and special education classes from birth to third grade. While she’s still considering which next step might be best for her and her students, her ultimate goal is to become an early childhood intervention specialist.
Anna also clearly recognizes the significance of her achievements and studies. As the first in her family to attend college and achieve a degree — all while raising kids and working part-time — she knows her quest to make an impact on the lives of young children will also make an impact on those who are in her same situation.
“I’d take a class, and I’d be like this is really hard, I don’t think I can do it,” she said, “but if I don’t do it, what kind of example am I setting? So I just keep pushing along.”
Anna thanked all who have given to the UNO Fund scholarship for helping to make her journey possible. She hopes their example, as well has her own journey, inspire others to continue to support this program so more students like her will have the opportunity to achieve their own educational goals and dreams.
“I’m really excited to be here,” she said. “Nobody in my family has gone to college. My parents didn’t go to college, so I’m the first in my family to actually try it out. It’s been kind of a wild ride!”
For a student who loves communications, cultural studies and travel, Beth Hoyt has found life as a college student during COVID-19 both challenging and intriguing.
“I’ve always been fascinated with the world and how we talk and how we communicate, and especially with the pandemic, how is that going to affect our communication?” she said in an interview, appropriately held via video conference. “I like learning about different cultures and how we interact and communicate with different cultures, so it’s been super, super interesting to learn about that right now.”
Born and raised in McCook, Nebraska, Beth attended Mid-Plains Community College, earning her associate’s degree before transferring to the University of Nebraska at Omaha in the fall of 2020. Her father is a farmer, her mother is a teacher and she has three siblings, including a younger sister who is also pursuing a degree. It was very important for Beth to find the right university that could help her explore her interests while also being an affordable option for her and her family.
“One of the things that I was really worried about as a transfer student was how that was going to affect my ability to get a scholarship,” she said. “My parents are helping to pay for two kids going through college, so I wanted to get whatever support I can so I can afford it and my parents can afford it.”
After looking at a few other schools in the area that didn’t seem to offer much financial support, Beth heard from a former community college classmate who loved her experience in UNO’s communication studies program. Beth also discovered that UNO’s tuition rates were among the lowest in the region, giving her a chance to keep costs down while also pursing a course of study she loves.
Beth moved into the dormitories at UNO in the fall, but like many college students, the pandemic has limited the college experience she was expecting. Additionally, after holding a job since she was 15 years old, she found herself struggling to find employment until just a couple months ago when she secured a job with Barnes and Noble.
Imagine Beth’s relief when she learned recently she was one of seven recipients of the 2020 UNO Fund Scholarship.
“I wasn’t expecting it at all,” she said. “I got the email and saw how much it was for, and I was like ‘oh my gosh!’ I immediately texted my mom, and she was like ‘yes!’ and they were so excited. It was really, really cool. I was surprised and so excited.”
While there are many scholarships at UNO, the UNO Fund for Student Scholarships is the only one that sees hundreds of alumni and supporters come together and make gifts — last year as low as $5 and as high as $5,000 — to give directly back to students. The scholarship will provide financial assistance for Beth through her expected graduation in May 2022.
“It made life a lot easier,” Beth said. “It lightened the financial load a lot. My family has always put a lot of value on higher education, and I’m just so incredibly grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to pursue a bachelor’s degree. Having that help with tuition and paying everything off, I’m so grateful I won’t be in debt for a long time afterward. That was a terrifying prospect. But just to have that peace of mind is so incredible and so rare, and I’m incredibly grateful for that.”
The scholarship is just one of many reasons Beth expressed happiness with her decision to attend UNO. Despite the challenges of pursuing a bachelor’s degree in 2021, Beth said that UNO has protected its students while trying to preserve a fulfilling college experience. She appreciated socially distanced events like drive-through celebrations during Durango Days and drive-in movies offered in the Baxter Arena parking lot.
“I really appreciate that UNO has put together events like that, because obviously we can’t all be together and do career fairs and Durango Days like we normally do,” she said. “It was something I was really looking forward to, including meeting other people. But even though we can’t technically do that, I really appreciate that they still encourage you to get out and be involved.”
Beth was also excited that, through careful COVID-19 measures, UNO has been able to continue its choir program, in which she enrolled as a way to continue her passion for music. The lessons, classes and performances have been both virtual and socially distanced, in-person sessions.
“I love singing,” she said. “I did it all throughout high school and junior high. Even though I didn’t pursue that as a major or career choice, I love that I’m still able to improve my singing skills as a hobby and extracurricular.”
While online learning isn’t her preference, Beth said she’s nevertheless become fascinated with her communication studies program thanks to engaging and helpful faculty and staff.
“I had a professor last semester named Abby Syrek,” Beth said. “She was my intro to communications professor, and she was incredible. I never actually got to meet her in person — it was a strictly online class I had with her – but she was so helpful and so encouraging. I had to write a couple of essays for that class, and she was so helpful in critiquing with like, ‘this is what you can change, and this is what you can put in your portfolio for later,’ for internships and things like that. She was so understanding and wonderful.”
Beth noted that she’s taken an interest in how communication has changed during the pandemic, whether because people can’t rely on nonverbal communication due to face masks, or because digital forms of communication have changed how we all interact. She said her studies have already changed how she herself views and interacts with the world.
“That’s one thing that I love about my communications studies — I’m applying what I’m learning,” she said. “I can see what I’m learning in my job, when I’m talking to my friends, when interacting with other people. I can put what I’m learning to use and see how it’s actually working in the real world, which is really cool.”
Beth expressed gratitude that the UNO Fund scholarship has made these experiences possible for her, all the while relieving the financial pressure on herself and her family. Now, she can focus on her coursework this semester, as well as her planned summer courses. She’s expecting to graduate with her bachelor’s in communication studies by May 2022.
“Careerwise, I’m not 100% sure yet what I want to do,” she said. “I’m not super set in any one direction. Communication is very broad, which is another thing I love about it, so there’s a million different directions I could go. It’s kind of scary but also kind of exciting.”
Anna Buchannan carries a motto that we can all relate to right now.
“My motto right now is that if I could just get through this year, that would be enough,” she says, speaking via videoconference, which the pandemic has made ubiquitous for college students.
It’s been a year of changes for Anna — a move from Metropolitan Community College to the University of Nebraska at Omaha, a switch in majors, a new job and, of course, adjusting to the new virtual life of a college student in 2020-21. But she’s not letting these challenge slow her down from achieving her goal of a UNO degree.
“Because I transferred majors, I’m a little behind on my classes, and I want to graduate with my class — that’s a really big focal point for me,” she said. “I know for others, it’s like, ‘who cares if you graduate later?’ But that is not me. I want to graduate with my class.”
Fortunately for Anna, UNO alumni and donors have made all of the changes — and hitting her goal of graduating on time — just a little bit easier to manage. This fall, Anna became one of seven promising UNO Fund scholarship recipients, receiving financial assistance thanks to hundreds of generous alumni and supporters of the UNO Fund.
“It was a super big relief,” Anna said, “because it took out a lot of stress of me having to take a loan. I’ve gotten this far in my college career without having to take out a loan. It was amazing. I was so happy!”
While there are many scholarships at UNO, the UNO Fund for Student Scholarships is the only one that sees hundreds of alumni and supporters come together to make gifts — last year as low as $5 and as high as $5,000 — to give directly back to students. Thanks to UNO Fund donors, UNO was able to offer Anna a renewable scholarship to cover much of her tuition through her expected graduation in 2022.
An Omaha native and Millard West High School graduate, Anna initially struggled with deciding on a major. She started her collegiate career at MCC, defaulting to nursing because she held a CNA certification. After some time working in the field, however, she questioned whether it was the right career for her.
“As I was almost done finishing my gen eds for nursing, I had gotten my second job as a CNA, working inpatient, and I just had a total change of heart in what I wanted to do,” she said. “I felt like it wasn’t for me to do that for a long time.”
Anna switched her major to business, which offered more options to transfer credits to a four-year institution. She graduated from MCC in the spring of 2020 and started taking courses at UNO in the fall to pursue her bachelor’s degree in business, with a concentration in human resource management and a minor in marketing.
“UNO has a really good business program,” she said, “and I have a million things I would love to do [with the degree].” For the time being, she’s keeping her options open, mentioning that she could envision herself working in human resources, medical sales, nurse recruiting or in management at a hospital or clinic. Additionally, she’s excited to see what opportunities her summer internship will bring. Through a UNO business class, Anna secured an internship with Werner Enterprises in summer 2021, allowing her to get real-world experience in human resource management and recruiting.
“I’m really excited for that because instead of me just being a sidekick, I’m going to be almost like an actual employee getting a full-on, hands-on experience,” she said.
The UNO Fund scholarship and its donors are helping make these experiences possible for her. Currently, Anna is living at home and working part-time to pay for her classes. Before she learned she was a recipient of the scholarship, she was worried she wouldn’t have the funds to pay for her classes and graduate on time.
“I didn’t know how I was going to pay for my spring semester classes,” she said. “I was going to have to take out a loan. Instead, with the scholarship, I got reimbursed for the fall semester, and I used that money plus the money for the scholarship for spring to pay for spring classes.”
“I think as a college student one of the biggest things and one of the biggest stressors we worry about is how we’re going to pay for classes — whether we’re going to have to make payments on it, or if we’re going to have to take out a loan, which then affects years and years of your life,” Anna said. “For me, this scholarship helped me out so much. I’m taking five classes now, and that’s the most I’ve taken here at UNO. I like to focus more on school. Prior to me finding out about this scholarship, I was going to have to work a lot more, so I was trying to figure out how I was going to balance school and work and studying and get everything on the same page. For me, this took off the stress of one, having to pay a debt for this semester, and then two, having to work even more than what I am now. So I got to keep the same work schedule because I was able to have this semester covered for me, so I get to focus way more on my studies.”
The scholarship allows Anna to focus on her course load and catch up with her graduation timeline. Thanks to the supporters of the UNO Fund, Anna expects she’ll earn her degree and graduate next spring.
“I just want to say thank you, because working as a college student and trying to do college in a work-life schedule is seriously so much stress,” she said. “Knowing that people are able to donate money for us to have our school covered and not have to worry about loans or debt or working as much so we get to focus more on our school and our studies is a huge relief, and I’m very thankful for it.”
Anna added that one day, she hopes to pay the generosity forward with her own gift to the UNO Fund scholarship.
“I would definitely consider becoming a donor myself, especially if I’m in a place where I can. Because I’ve been in the position, I would definitely like to relieve that stress for someone else, because I know how big a relief it is.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States, many Americans, especially senior citizens, were faced with fear and uncertainty. But Leah Stednitz was moved to action.
“I have a passion and am driven to work with our aging population, especially the baby-boomer generation,” Leah said. “I love and respect them. They are mentors to me, and we have so much to learn from them as a society. I want to honor them for their contributions to society.”
A native of Springfield, Neb., Leah graduated from high school in 1999 and earned an associate degree in respiratory care from Metropolitan Community College. With her clinical experiences in the years since, she knew she could be helpful to those most vulnerable to the virus. However, she wanted to take her abilities to make an impact to the next level by earning her bachelor’s degree.
“I don’t think it’s going anywhere anytime soon,” she said, “so I want to be a part of the solution to making life better and more socialized for the residents.”
For the last 17 years, Leah has lived all over the United States with her husband and three daughters. Leah married her high school sweetheart, and he attended the University of Nebraska at Omaha before joining the United States Air Force.
“I practiced respiratory therapy for several years, but with raising a family, being a single parent at times and moving every couple of years, I chose to put my career on hold and my family first,” she said. “All three of our daughters are now in school full time, and my husband can retire from the military in three years, so I have chosen to make myself a priority again and figure out what I want to do when I grow up.”
Leah had been putting her professional skills to use by volunteering with elderly citizens when the pandemic hit, and when that work was put on pause, she decided to become a full-time student and enrolled at UNO. She’s pursuing a multidisciplinary studies degree with emphases in health care administration, gerontology and respiratory care.
Of course, 2020 had to throw extra challenges her way. She simultaneously had to become a homeschooling teacher to her two youngest daughters — teaching fourth grade and kindergarten — and later in the year, her family battled COVID-19. Throughout it all, Leah managed to keep up with her classes and maintain a 4.0 GPA.
Doing all of this on one income was no cakewalk either, so when Leah learned that she was one of 2020’s recipients of the UNO Fund scholarship, she was beyond thrilled.
“I remember calling my husband on the phone and jumping for joy,” she said. “I was so excited and humbled that it brought tears to my eyes.”
While there are many scholarships at UNO, the UNO Fund for Student Scholarships is the only one that sees hundreds of alumni and supporters come together to make gifts — last year as low as $5 and as high as $5,000 — to give directly back to students. The scholarship will provide financial assistance for Leah through her expected graduation in December 2021.
“I am proud to be a part of UNO and have enjoyed my experience,” she said. “I will be the first in my family to graduate with a bachelor’s degree.
“I was honored and truly appreciative to receive this scholarship; it helped ease the financial burden of being a one-income family, the costs of raising three daughters and, of course, not having to live on as tight of a budget. This scholarship brought a peace of mind to help ease the guilt of my financial burden with my student tuition to complete my degree. I also have been able to spend more time with my family in the evenings, being an active mom that they need and deserve. I can designate my daytime hours while they are at school to working out, doing schoolwork, volunteering and giving back to the community.”
Leah’s daughters are back in school now, and she has been able to resume her volunteer work, serving two days a week at Hillcrest Health Services in Bellevue, working with hospice patients. With graduation coming soon, she has ambitious plans for her degree and her experiences working with older populations.
“I may apply for a master’s program,” she mused, “but I know 100% that I want to work with the aging population. I would love to take this degree and run a long-term care facility here in the Omaha metro. I want to take my knowledge and passion to truly honor and celebrate our senior citizens. I feel that I can bring the younger tech-savvy groove of society and apply it to our long-term care facilities to help them stay socialized and connected with the outside world. Especially during these tragic times, our geriatric populations have been the most impacted by COVID-19.”
Leah especially wanted to thank the donors who have enabled her to pursue her call to service and to achieve her dream of a UNO bachelor’s degree.
“Thank you so much for your contribution to make the UNO Fund scholarship possible,” she said. “This scholarship has helped me further my education dream and helped make it a reality. It means a lot, especially for us nontraditional students who don’t get as many opportunities for scholarships as high school seniors. I truly appreciate the generosity and compassion that you have for donating to help fund scholarships for other UNO students.”
The University of Nebraska at Omaha Marion Marsh Brown Writers Lecture Series has featured some of the world’s most well-known authors, bringing names such as John Grisham, Cheryl Strayed, Lee Child and Nicholas Sparks, to Baxter Arena.
Sara Pedersen hopes to someday join that list.
“That would be an amazing accomplishment,” she said. “That’s when you know you’ve really made it, to be recognized in that way.”
Sara is an aspiring author herself. She crafts stories in the horror and mystery genres, taking her inspiration from Stephen King and R.L. Stine. Last summer she even won a tall tales writing contest hosted by her hometown library in Norfolk, Nebraska. It’s a thriller about a deadly young girl, and it ends with a hair-raising twist.
“I don’t want to spoil the ending for you,” Sara said.
Interestingly, Sara’s own story got a twist of its own recently when she was awarded one of eight UNO Fund scholarships for 2020.
While there are many scholarships at UNO, the UNO Fund for Student Scholarships is the only one that sees hundreds of alumni and supporters come together to make gifts — last year as low as $5 and as high as $5,000 — to give directly back to students. The scholarship will provide financial assistance for Sara through her expected graduation in May 2022.
“I don’t usually win these kinds of things,” she said. “I am lucky sometimes, but not in the stuff that really matters. I have an older sister who is now an art teacher and went to college, and I have a younger brother who is currently in college in Wayne. So that is three children with debt. My parents both have good-paying jobs, but this award helps lighten the load. I am really grateful for these funds, and if you are one of the people who gave, thank you.”
Born and raised in Norfolk, Sara graduated from Pierce High School, then attended Central Community College for three years. She has always enjoyed literature and spends a considerable amount of time at her local library, where she finds joy in discovering new works as well as helping others find what they’re seeking. Sometimes she even makes recommendations.
For these reasons, she wants to become a librarian. She started studying library services at CCC but knew she would need a four-year degree to achieve her dream. In the winter of 2019, she took an online course from UNO (“just to see how it worked — I passed,” she deadpanned). Comfortable with the experience, she enrolled as a full-time student the next fall and is now working toward her library sciences degree.
Furthermore, Sara hopes to complete her degree entirely online. She still lives in Norfolk, and the fact that UNO has one of the best library sciences programs around, coupled with its expansive online course catalog, attracted her to the school.
“I’m trying to get all my electives out of the way, so I haven’t technically taken library classes yet, but I will,” she said. “I’ve taken some sociology classes — my minor is in sociology. For this semester, my classes are astronomy, technical communications, anthropology, sociology and a creative writing class for graphic novels.”
She’s also continuing her own creative writing and considering submitting her work to 13thh Floor Magazine, UNO’s student-run literary journal.
“Even if I am not accepted, it would be great experience, because if I don’t get used to handing in my stuff and getting rejected or approved, then how am I going to get into the life?” she said.
With a full course load and an eye on her career, Sara said there can be a lot to keep track of, but the UNO Fund scholarship has made it so she can focus on her studies and achieve her intended graduation date of May 2022.
She expressed her thanks to all of the supporters who gave amounts both large and small to the scholarship.
“Thank you for picking me,” she said. “Thank you for giving me this opportunity to show you that I’m worth the scholarship. I hope that with my academic career and with my later job as a librarian, that I will make you proud.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges for University of Nebraska at Omaha students who are striving for their degrees. Thanks to the help of generous supporters like you, eight students have been able to continue their studies this year with a scholarship from the UNO Fund. Through the collective power of gifts from you and alumni like you, we have been able to provide access to exceptional education to students who need it the most.
While there are many scholarships at UNO, the UNO Fund for Student Scholarships is the only one that sees hundreds of alumni and community members come together and make gifts – last year as low as $5 and as high as $5,000 – to give directly back to students.
We’d like you to meet some of 2020-21’s UNO Fund scholarship recipients:
Karina Ruiz was just starting to feel confident when the pandemic hit. Having moved to a new country, learned a new language, started her business degree at UNO and secured her own place, the pandemic again threw life into uncertainty. She said receiving the UNO Fund scholarship “was like being able to breathe again.” “It really inspires me to want to give back, too, once I graduate and have the means, because I’ve been there,” she said. “I continue to feel more freedom financially because of what you did, because of you deciding to give. Thank you… you changed my life.”
Anna Wesch, already raising three children and working at the same time, decided to pursue her bachelor’s degree and fulfill her longtime dream of becoming an early childhood educator. The UNO Fund scholarship gave her inspiration to keep going, even when her studies got tough. “It’s just so unexpected,” she said. “I’m so very grateful. It definitely helps to make things a little easier and makes it a little more like, ‘OK, I can do this.’ To know that there’s people that believe I can do it too and make me successful, that’s just really cool.”
Beth Hoyt moved from McCook, Nebraska, to pursue communications studies at UNO. With three in her family attending college, she wanted to make sure her degree was affordable for herself and her parents. She chose UNO partly because it has one of the lowest tuition rates in the region, and the UNO Fund scholarship is helping her to graduate on time. “I’m so grateful I won’t be in debt for a long time afterward,” she said. “Th¬at was a terrifying prospect. But just to have that peace of mind is so incredible and so rare, and I’m incredibly grateful for that.”
Anna Buchannan has experienced a year full of changes — a move from Metropolitan Community College to UNO, a switch in majors, a new job and, of course, adjusting to the new virtual life of a college student in 2020-21. Fortunately for Anna, UNO alumni and donors have made all of the changes — and hitting her goal of graduating on time — just a little bit easier to manage, providing a scholarship to complete her studies. “It was a super big relief,” Anna said, “because it took out a lot of stress of me having to take a loan. I’ve gotten this far in my college career without having to take out a loan. It was amazing. I was so happy!”
Leah Stednitz had been putting her professional skills as a respiratory therapist to use by volunteering with elderly citizens when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and when that work was put on pause, she decided to become a full-time student and enrolled at UNO. She’s pursuing a multidisciplinary studies degree with emphases in health care administration, gerontology and respiratory care. “I would love to take this degree and run a long-term care facility here in the Omaha metro,” she said. “I want to take my knowledge and passion to truly honor and celebrate our senior citizens. I feel that I can bring the younger tech-savvy groove of society and apply it to our long-term care facilities to help them stay socialized and connected with the outside world.”
Sara Pedersen aspires to be both an author and a librarian. She’s pursuing an online education in library sciences from her hometown of Norfolk. Already a contest-winning writer for her mystery and horror tales, Sara’s own story got a surprising twist last fall when she received a UNO Fund scholarship. “I don’t usually win these kinds of things,” she said. “I am lucky sometimes, but not in the stuff that really matters. I have an older sister who is now an art teacher and went to college, and I have a younger brother who is currently in college in Wayne. So that is three children with debt. My parents both have good-paying jobs, but this award helps lighten the load. I am really grateful for these funds, and if you are one of the people who gave, thank you.”
Thanks to UNO Fund donors, UNO was able to offer renewable scholarships to these students to cover much of their tuition through graduation. The more people who give, the more scholarships we can award to students who need and deserve them. Make your gift of $25, $50 or $100 to the UNO Fund today.
For more UNO Fund scholarship recipient profiles, read about the 2019 recipients here.
Karina’s family moved to the United States when she was a teenager, and now as a University of Nebraska at Omaha college student, she’s working full-time, living on her own, taking a full schedule of classes and trying to manage her time and her money, all during a global pandemic, which occasionally has made that peace of mind elusive.
But Karina has been able to capture a bit of harmony though determination, hard work … and a bit of pottery.
“I took two classes on pottery when I was in high school, and I loved them,” she said. “Once I was out, I missed it. So recently I bought materials, just because I was very stressed. I thought I might as well during COVID, because I cannot go anywhere. I started doing pottery again, which I loved. I make mostly dorky stuff. I’m not a professional at all. But I like it. You know how your mind is never blank? It kind of just makes me blank.”
Karina said she appreciated the break pottery gave her from stressing about school, work and money. In fact, she’s not sure she would have even been able to take those chances to relax were it not for the incredible surprise she received this fall — a UNO Fund scholarship, courtesy of alumni and donors of UNO.
“It was like being able to breathe again,” she said. “A little bit of hope in the midst of COVID, in the midst of full-time work, in the midst of having to pay for school, in the midst of debt. I just felt like there is hope for me, like I’m getting a break finally, even though I didn’t think I would be able to.
“Life sometimes knows what you need, even when you don’t expect it. It was one of those things you don’t expect would actually happen, so you finally get a break.”
Karina is one of seven promising UNO Fund scholarship recipients who are getting financial assistance thanks to generous alumni and supporters of the UNO Fund. While there are many scholarships at UNO, the UNO Fund for Student Scholarships is the only one that sees hundreds of alumni and supporters come together and make gifts — last year as low as $5 and as high as $5,000 — to give directly back to students.
“I would like to put an emphasis on how inspiring this scholarship is,” she said. “It isn’t one person – it’s inspiring that all these alumni decided to help those who are right behind them. It’s also very inspiring because it makes me want to give back, and it makes me know that I will give back once I’m a not college student. Hundreds of thank yous.”
While Karina has been inspired by those who gave to support her scholarship, her own story is itself quite inspiring. A native of Monterrey, Mexico, Karina and her family moved to Omaha in 2015 when her father accepted a position as a computer science engineer. Karina enrolled at Millard North High School and had to quickly adjust to life in middle America.
“While it was hard at the beginning, it was a definitely a nice challenge and an opportunity to learn two languages, to get used to the culture and everything. I finished high school and started college early, just because I saw that as an opportunity to continue growing not only my language but also my knowledge.”
Karina initially enrolled at Metropolitan Community College, earning an associate’s degree in business. Always one to push herself, she wanted to continue her education and achieve her bachelor’s degree. Fortunately for her, UNO made it easy to transfer her credits and enroll in the College of Business Administration with a concentration in human resource management. But she also discovered that she wasn’t eligible for many of the scholarships and assistance the university offered. Having just moved into her own apartment, and then in the fall, having her hours as a product specialist at Apple reduced because of the pandemic, she found herself relying on loans and credit cards to pay for classes and essentials.
“It was not very smart, but it was getting me by,” she said. “Money was getting very tight for me. So when I received this scholarship, it pretty much changed my life to be completely honest. It was amazing. I was able to go part-time [at work], focus on my schooling and get my financials together.”
Karina’s feeling a bit more harmony today, thanks to the generosity of UNO Fund scholarship donors. She also said she appreciates the care UNO has taken to protect its students during the pandemic — another source of relief for her.
“I was talking to another person this week, and it happened that they were going to a different college, and I really think that UNO is leading right now in how protective they are,” she said. “I’m honored to say that, just because there are many big educational institutions, but I feel like I am part of a school that cares so much about their students. I’m confident that if something happens, UNO has my back. That’s why I’ve continued taking multiple classes. I feel confident that the college has my back.”
Thanks to the continued careful access the university has provided, coupled with the scholarship she received, Karina was happy to report that she is on track for graduation in December of 2021, ahead of many of her classmates.
After graduation, she hopes to use her degree to find a position in human resources and continue to bring inspiration to others. She has a passion for talent development and harmony in the workplace. She’s looked into some of the larger corporations in Omaha and hopes that she’ll find one that fits her goals and ambitions. Ultimately, she wants to continue learning and work her way into an executive position.
“One of my goals is learning more from people who have been there, and who are there, and becoming one of them myself,” she said. “My goal is to do my best to be able to lead people, to be able to provide that harmony. It brings me a lot of passion and makes me want to wake up every day, continuing to learn and improve myself.
“I’ve worked so hard in the last five and a half or six years,” she added. I’ve worked so hard to adapt, so hard to learn, so hard to excel, so hard to even demonstrate I can do it — for myself, not me wanting to tell everyone I can do it. At the beginning I didn’t think I could, and now I’ve demonstrated to my 15-year-old self, you can do it, you graduated with your class, and not through an ESL program. You learned the language, you learned the culture, you started college early and you’re graduating early. So I’m very excited to find a job and continue to demonstrate to myself that I can do it.”
Furthermore, Karina wanted all donors to the UNO Fund to know that their gifts to help her toward these goals were crucial and appreciated.
“It really inspires me to want to give back, too, once I graduate and have the means, because I’ve been there,” she said. “I continue to feel more freedom financially because of what you did, because of you deciding to give. Thank you, because you were there where I was, and now you were inspired maybe by someone else who gave you something — or you simply felt the need to give somebody something — and you actually really changed my life.”
Starting this month, the UNO Alumni card goes fully digital. The UNO Alumni card is issued to all individuals who give a gift of $25 or more to the UNO Fund. It provides access to a number of services on the University of Nebraska at Omaha campus, including Criss Library, the ability to purchase a membership to the UNO Wellness Center in H&K, discounted tickets to performances, the bookstore, and more. A full list of card advantages can be found here, though some of these privileges are currently limited due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The alumni card has been available digitally on the UNO Alumni smartphone app since 2018, supplementing the paper cards issued with donors’ gift receipts. This month, the University of Nebraska Foundation and UNO Alumni Association will discontinue automatically issuing paper cards on the receipts and will direct all UNO Fund donors to access their UNO Alumni card on the UNO Alumni app, available on both the Google and Android app stores.
The UNO alumni card is valid for one year after your gift is made. The app allows for easy tracking of this period and expiration date, as well as easy renewal of your alumni card before its expiration. The digital card cuts down the wait time for issuing cards, and it is also a convenient way to make sure you always have your card handy for use on campus and around town.
For more on the app, including links to download it, visit https://unoalumni.org/unoalumniapp
Those without access to the UNO Alumni app can email firstname.lastname@example.org to be issued a paper card. Please allow 1-2 weeks for delivery of the card after request.
The University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) will celebrate its first annual Wear Black, Give Back 24-hour celebration and giving day on Oct. 28-29.
UNO alumni and friends across the country and around the world are encouraged to wear their favorite black Maverick gear and consider giving to scholarships, colleges and programs, student groups and activities, inclusion and wellness, athletics or other areas of choice.
The celebration starts at noon on Wednesday, Oct. 28, and goes through noon on Thursday, Oct. 29. In addition to sharing Maverick pride with #WearBlackGiveBack, contributions may be made at givingday.unomaha.edu to help any area of UNO. Gifts are accepted now through noon on Oct. 29.
UNO Chancellor Jeffery P. Gold, M.D., said Mavs from across the nation will come together to show their support of the university by wearing their proud UNO colors and by making gifts to support access to exceptional education.
“There’s never been a better time to be a Mav, and we have much to celebrate,” Gold said. “Our incredible, resilient students continue to work hard to achieve their dreams, and our world-class faculty and staff are doing all they can to make it happen safely and effectively. I want to extend my thanks to everyone who gives during Wear Black, Give Back.”
Campus kickoff activities planned Oct. 28
To celebrate the event safely, two physically distanced activities will take place on Oct. 28 at UNO.
UNO employees can drive through one of two Wear Black, Give Back stations on campus to receive a donut in thanks for their service to the university. The first station is from 9-11 a.m. at the West Parking Garage on the Dodge Campus. The second station is from 2-4 p.m. on the Scott Campus in parking lot two.
On the morning of Oct. 28, 10 small, plush Durango mascots will be hidden across the UNO campus, each one with a gift amount attached to it. The UNO students who find the Durango mascots will then get to keep it and also choose which campus cause for Wear Black, Give Back will receive the assigned gift amount.
These hidden gifts, as well as various other challenge gifts planned throughout the celebration, are made possible by individuals and corporate sponsors of the event.
For more information, updates and image downloads go to givingday.unomaha.edu.
Wear Black, Give Back is planned in partnership with UNO, the UNO Alumni Association and the University of Nebraska Foundation.
For questions about the event and to learn about sponsorship opportunities, contact Joel Gehringer at 402-502-4924 or email@example.com.
About the University of Nebraska at Omaha
Located in one of America’s best cities to live, work and learn, the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) is Nebraska’s premier metropolitan university. With more than 15,000 students enrolled in 200-plus programs of study, UNO is recognized nationally for its online education, graduate education, military friendliness and community engagement efforts. Founded in 1908, UNO has served learners of all backgrounds for more than 100 years and is dedicated to another century of excellence both in the classroom and in the community.
Become a fan of UNO on Facebook and follow UNO’s Twitter updates.
NBDC seeks to lessen the impact
Hui Ru Ng might not have boarded a flight to Nebraska if not for Tommy Lee.
Ru (as her friends call her) was raised in Malaysia and dreamed of traveling to the U.S. to enroll at a college that was equally affordable and reputable. She also dreamed of seeing the sun-swept landscape exhibited in the since-canceled TV show “Tommy Lee Goes to College,” which chronicled the former Mötley Crüe drummer’s uninspired attempt to assimilate at Nebraska’s land grant institution.
Ru ultimately chose the University of Nebraska at Omaha and boarded an airplane for the first time.
“Back home, it’s summer all year,” she said. “When I got to the airport, I was like, ‘Oh, this isn’t what I thought.’ But I grew to love this place because of the people. I will never forget how Nebraskans supported me.”
After completing her undergraduate degree, Ru applied to be a graduate assistant at the Nebraska Business Development Center located at UNO. Oluwaseun Olaore (Seun, as his friends call him) applied around the same time.
A project director back home in Nigeria, Olaore foresaw a professional ceiling unless he had an advanced degree.
Ru and Seun’s two years with the NBDC coincided with a 100-year flood and a COVID-19 pandemic. Suddenly the vulnerabilities of the Midwestern economy were tested like never before.
“This whole experience actually made me realize that I want to start a small business,” said Ru after having experienced a frightening two-part course on the financial realities of small-business ownership in times of crisis. “You get inspired by clients, see their innovation and passion.”
Seun too came away from this experience reaffirmed in his commitment to the industry.
“I’ve been able to help business owners figure out a way around these problems,” he said. “This hasn’t scared me away. It has strengthened me.”
Since its founding in 1977, NBDC has operated with a statewide mission out of its office in UNO’s College of Business Administration. For nearly four decades, Robert Bernier shepherded the center as its director.
“My opinion is that small business is more important to Nebraska, more important to our communities than anything,” said Catherine Lang, assistant dean of the UNO College of Business Administration who took over as NBDC state director for Bernier in 2016. “Nebraska small-business owners are innovative, resilient and tenacious. They care about their community.”
With Lang’s guidance, NBDC has assisted more than 8,500 clients — everything from fire-rated window providers to monarch butterfly habitat conservers — and helped them obtain in excess of $590 million in government contracts. All told, NBDC had a $1.9 billion impact on Nebraska’s economy over just the last four years, either directly creating or saving nearly 6,000 jobs.
If the NBDC is a tent, there are five support poles beneath: the Small Business Development Center, the Procurement Technical Assistance Center, Innovation and Technology Assistance, Professional and Organizational Development, and NU Connections.
There are centers in Chadron, Grand Island, Kearney, Lincoln, McCook, Norfolk, North Platte, Omaha, Scottsbluff and Wayne.
As Lang puts it, “We are kind of campus agnostic. We serve the entire state.”
One-on-one discussions are confidential and available free of charge. Proposals are tailored to the client.
“We work with them to develop their business plan,” Lang said. “That way they’re 100 percent intimately knowledgeable about financials, market research, everything.”
Located in UNO’s Mammel Hall, the center can tap into the university’s student body and faculty. “There’s a nice little symbiotic relationship between the academic world and the business world,” said UNO economics professor Christopher Decker.
Bernier deserves a lion’s share of the credit for the success of the graduate assistant program, Lang contends.
At any given time, Ru juggles a dozen clients on the innovation and technology side of the operation, helping them identify which grants to pursue. Olaore works with the small-business development center to help companies flesh out business plans, construct financial projections and apply for loans.
“They hire a lot of international students in the office,” Ru said, mentioning that three continents are currently represented by graduate assistants. “We have great diversity.”
When the pandemic arrived, NBDC was prepared.
“We had to be ready,” Lang said. “Businesses all over the state are contacting us for help — clients who are trying to navigate this whole CARES act, SBA loans, unemployment insurance, IRS rules.”
The inspired work has left an impact on those providing it.
“These people are so passionate,” Ru said. “You learn a lot from them.”
Lang loves how interconnected the NBDC is, that resources are available no matter where a company sprouts from. And indeed, there is an irony almost poetic about salt-of-the-earth Nebraskans turning to students born thousands of miles away for guidance through the all-encompassing storm.
“I know we’re just a sliver of the entire ecosystem of Nebraska,” Lang said. “But I’m so very proud. We are always going to do the best we can.”