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.”