Sometimes the tiniest details matter. Kevin Ware knows this well, from both personal and professional experiences. While he always wanted to go to college, in 2013, after graduating from high school in Fort Wayne, Indiana, he found himself stationed at Offutt Air Force Base instead.
“I’d always been really good at school, but I never had the money to pay for college, even with FAFSA or scholarships or anything like that. That was always against me,” he said. “Joining the military was a route that I knew I could get some help paying for school, so I took that route.”
Kevin served in the U.S. Air Force from 2013 through 2018, stationed the entire time at Offutt. The experience taught him many things, but among the most helpful was the opportunity to discover what really interested him – how the tiniest of details can make a big impact on the human body.
“I always thought I wanted to be an engineer,” he said, “but as I started working out and everything like that, I became fascinated with the human body, so I decided to go the route of physical therapy. At Offutt, I did work in a medical background career field called preventative medicine – pretty much OSHA-, EPA-like work. I would go to workplaces, check for safety hazards, chemicals, radiation, the water sources on base, stuff like that. All of that and how it affected the human body, every minute detail of how it affected it, it really helped me grow the want to learn about the human body and sciences in general.”
After completing his service, Kevin stayed in the Omaha area, attending Metropolitan Community College for a year with GI Bill assistance to work on a liberal sciences degree. The experience was helpful, but he would need a four-year degree if he wanted to seriously pursue a career in physical therapy.
Kevin looked into transferring to the University of Nebraska at Omaha, where he could complete his bachelor’s degree and take the next step toward physical therapy school. He said that UNO provided the smoothest transition and most attractive credit transfer options of all the schools in the area he considered. The only tough part was the tiny detail of picking a degree program.
“I originally applied to the exercise program here, but I met with staff here and we ultimately decided that wasn’t going to be the best route, because I’d have three more years of school,” he said. “They sent me over to the multidisciplinary studies office – continuing education – and we worked on a degree plan. They explained it as a build-your-own-degree plan, which I thought was pretty cool, and they fit everything that I had already done in there, plus they gave me credit for being in the military prior. All of that kind of factored in – least amount of time, credits transferring, affordability, all of that.”
The ease and helpfulness of UNO’s transfer process allowed Kevin to begin classes in the summer, when he was able to take a class in UNO’s Health & Kinesiology building that focused on how to run such a facility.
“That was super helpful,” Kevin said. “I learned a lot about how to manage a gym, and learning about different equipment, equipment costs, how to be the most cost-effective as a business with a gym. It was really cool – I had never heard of a class like that before. It was pretty in depth.”
Later that summer, Kevin got more good news – he would be one of seven promising transfer students receiving a UNO Fund scholarship starting in the fall of 2019.
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. Thanks to UNO Fund donors, UNO was able to offer Kevin a renewable scholarship to cover much of his tuition through his expected graduation in 2020.
“I was excited,” he said. “Prior scholarships I’ve applied for I never got because the VA helps with most things. So I could tell they were really wanting to give [this scholarship] to students in need.”
Kevin entered the fall semester with enough credits to be considered a senior and look toward graduation next year. He’s currently taking classes in biology, physics and nutrition. He’s also applying for physical therapy programs so he can continue to pursue his dream of one day opening his own business.
“My eventual goal is to open a physical therapy clinic with a gym attached to it,” he said. “That way you have athletes and general population in to train, and you always have the physical therapist side of it for people that are there nursing injuries or that want help. That’s the ultimate goal – to have something like an athletics center almost.”
That dream is a little bit closer today, thanks to alumni and community members who gave Kevin a chance through the UNO Fund, and he wanted each donor to know just how grateful he is for the support. Unlike the intricacies of biology, chemistry and the human body, even the smallest gift is no tiny detail for Kevin and his family.
“I’ll be the first one in my immediate family with a four-year degree,” he said, “so that’s something good to look forward to. Thank you for making an opportunity like that available to the students. It’s not every day someone receives a scholarship, so thank you. It’s greatly appreciated.”