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.”