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By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Maricia Guzman has three important messages for University of Nebraska at Kearney graduates.
Never take opportunities for granted.
Everyone can reach their goals.
Always strive to do good.
These life lessons, which she’ll share during UNK’s summer commencement, helped Guzman get to where she is today.
The 26-year-old Scottsbluff native is the student speaker for Friday’s graduation ceremony at the Health and Sports Center, where she’ll receive a Master of Science in Education degree in student affairs.
Guzman, who earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2014, was more than a little surprised by the honor.
“I was always the good student who got to watch other people speak,” Guzman said.
“I think it shows this was the right program, right time, right profession,” she added.
It was actually poor timing that led her to UNK.
During her final semester at UNL, Guzman moved back to Scottsbluff and took a job as an admissions counselor at Western Nebraska Community College, where she worked for about two years before deciding to pursue a master’s degree.
Guzman returned to UNL in 2016 as program coordinator at the Jackie Gaughan Multicultural Center’s Office of Academic Success and Intercultural Services (OASIS), but missed the deadline to enroll in the school’s student affairs graduate program.
So, she turned to the 36-credit online program offered by UNK, which can be personalized to meet the needs of those looking to enter the student affairs field, as well as those with previous work experience who are seeking a promotion.
“UNK’s program has been the best decision,” said Guzman, who continued working in Lincoln while completing the online program. “It definitely was a good fit for me.”
The program, which prepares graduates for positions at colleges and universities, emphasizes student development and counseling approaches to support students throughout their college experience. This includes encouraging student involvement, addressing student concerns and making the appropriate referrals to mental health professionals.
Guzman knows firsthand the importance of providing support for college students facing crises.
As program coordinator for OASIS, a position she held from May 2016 until June 2018, she focused on improving student success by providing academic, social and personal support. Guzman assisted a number of ethnic minority and first-generation students, as well as those on academic probation.
“Many of the students I was working with at UNL had personal issues and things that needed to be worked out,” said Guzman, who was also an adviser for UNL’s Define American Chapter, which advocates for and supports immigrant students and those covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
Guzman has a passion for helping students from diverse backgrounds and preparing people to live and work in an increasingly global society. She’s drawn to “the underdogs,” those who face family or financial struggles on their path to success.
“Guiding them and being part of their journey is incredible, because they overcome so much just to get a college degree,” she said.
Guzman, whose mother also attended UNL, was active with a number of related organizations as an undergraduate. She founded Students Overcoming Stereotypes, served as president of Multicultural Students in Media, was involved with the Mexican-American Student Association and wrote for The Daily Nebraskan student newspaper. She also was part of the Melvin W. Jones Scholars Learning Community, studied abroad in India twice, served as a mentor for the Nebraska College Preparatory Academy, which supports low-income, first-generation students, and was selected to be a New Student Enrollment leader, introducing more than 3,000 incoming freshmen and their families to campus.
“I absolutely loved working with parents and students,” Guzman said. “That’s kind of how I ended up where I am today, because of that experience.”
Earlier this month, Guzman moved from Lincoln to Scottsbluff again, this time with her fiancé Rolando Longoria and 15-month-old son Enrique Longoria. She’ll begin the next chapter of her career back in her hometown with knowledge gained through UNK’s online program.
“The skills I learned in the master’s program were incredibly helpful for me,” Guzman said. “I definitely promote UNK’s program to my colleagues who aren’t sure where to go next.”
What: UNK Summer Commencement
When: 10 a.m., Friday, July 27
Where: UNK Health and Sports Center, 24th Street and 15th Avenue, Kearney
Social Media: Follow @UNKearney and #lopergrad on Twitter to see photos and posts from 2018 graduates, their friends and families
Live Broadcast: Watch Commencement live and join in the #lopergrad conversation at http://unk.edu/eventdashboard