2018 UNK Outstanding Family Award Winner
By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – When the Petersen sisters are asked why they live together, they laugh and give the same response.
“That was the main reason,” Sarah says. “It makes our parents happy.”
David and Patti Petersen, whose four daughters attend the University of Nebraska at Kearney, won’t dispute that answer. They’re glad triplets Hannah, Rebekah and Emily followed older sister Sarah to UNK after graduating from Millard West High School in Omaha.
Sure, they appreciate the cost savings and convenience that come with having all four children in one location – “A mortgage on a house was cheaper than four dorm rooms,” David notes – but there are plenty of other reasons to be pleased with their daughters’ decisions.
“It’s a small-town school and the community is really involved with the campus,” David said. “We really like that.”
They also like the smaller class sizes at UNK and opportunities for their daughters to get involved on campus and make new friends.
“Sometimes you can get lost as a freshman, but they dove right in,” Patti said.
The Petersen parents don’t think twice about having four daughters who also happen to be college roommates.
“They’ve always been great friends,” said David, a computer programmer and U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served in the Gulf War.
“From the day the triplets were born, Sarah was a doting, loving big sister,” added Patti, who works at First National Bank in downtown Omaha.
The Petersen sisters agree. They get along pretty well – “most of the time.”
LEADING THE WAY
Sarah was the first to arrive in Kearney, picking UNK “sort of randomly” before falling in love with the school.
“My friends wanted me to go to UNK,” she said. “I didn’t really look anywhere else.”
As a freshman, she joined the Alpha Phi sorority, thanks to a nudge from her mother.
“When I came to college I was extremely, extremely, extremely shy and pretty reserved,” Sarah said. “I was kind of afraid to try new things and step outside my comfort zone. It was a pretty big step outside my comfort zone to join a sorority.”
It was also one of the best decisions she’s made.
“The girls in the sorority see things in me that I never saw in myself,” Sarah said.
They pushed her to pursue new opportunities and leadership roles while providing support along the way.
“There are things that I’m in right now that I never would have believed that I’d be in,” she said.
The 21-year-old communication disorders major has held multiple leadership positions with Alpha Phi and she co-leads the group’s Bible study. She’s also active in the UNK Honors Program and Christian Student Fellowship, and was named the 2017-18 Student Employee Rookie of the Year for her work in the Nebraskan Student Union and Student Engagement Office.
After missing tryouts as a freshman, Sarah joined the UNK Cheer Squad the following year, even though she never participated in the extracurricular activity during high school.
“I love that I’m able to get involved and connect with every area of campus,” said Sarah, who was a finalist for homecoming queen during last week’s festivities.
Patti has noticed her daughter’s growth over the past two-plus years at UNK.
“She’s reinvented herself,” the proud mother said. “I can’t even tell you what a different person she is.”
When the time came for the younger Petersen sisters to choose a college, Emily already knew she was heading to UNK. Hannah and Rebekah were considering other options.
“I didn’t want them to pick UNK just because I was here, but then they came on their visit and they were like, ‘Yeah, I want to come to UNK,’” Sarah said.
Hannah, a music education major, was impressed by that program and the activities she could get involved with. Rebekah saw a chance to branch out and meet new people.
“When you’re walking to classes you see familiar faces,” she said. “At bigger campuses, you don’t really get to know all the people.”
As freshmen, the triplets know they can lean on their older sister and her campus connections, but they’re also focused on establishing their own identities.
“I wanted to find a place where I could be my own person,” Hannah said.
Hannah and Rebekah are members of the UNK Pride of the Plains Marching Band Color Guard and Nebraskats show choir – activities they were involved with at Millard West. Emily, who was a cheerleader throughout high school, is now part of the UNK Cheer Squad alongside her older sister.
All four sisters performed together during Saturday’s homecoming football game. Of course, David and Patti were in the crowd cheering them on.
“On football weekends, we get to see all four of them do their thing,” David said.
Last weekend was extra special for the Petersens as they were recognized by the Loper Programming and Activities Council (LPAC) as the 2018 UNK Outstanding Family.
In addition to being actual sisters, the Petersens are also sorority sisters as Emily, Rebekah and Hannah joined Alpha Phi last month.
All three said they experienced a genuine connection to the sorority and its members – “a good, heartwarming feeling,” as Emily described it.
“You could see that they really care about each other,” Rebekah said. “I felt the sisterhood between them.”
During recruitment, Emily said, one of the first things members mentioned is Alpha Phi’s Bible study.
“That showed us what their focus is,” she said.
Like their older sister, the 19-year-olds are also active with Christian Student Fellowship.
CLOSER THAN EVER
For Sarah, a junior, living with her sisters again is an interesting experience after two years of learning how to handle “adult” responsibilities on her own.
“It’s kind of weird, but it’s really fun,” she said, adding that she enjoys watching her siblings become more independent.
Emily, who called Sarah the “RA” of the house, isn’t complaining about her roommates.
Each sister may have her quirks, “But I like living with everybody,” she said.
Sharing a house may save their parents money, but the real reward is the opportunity to grow even closer as they attend college together.
“I love UNK so much, but I love it even more now that my sisters are here experiencing it with me,” Sarah said.
‘WE’RE ALL SO SIMILAR, BUT WE’RE ALSO VERY, VERY DIFFERENT’
The Petersen sisters have a lot in common, but they also have characteristics that set them apart. Here’s how they described each other:
She’s the mom of the group, according to Hannah. “She takes care of us.”
“She lights up a room with her smile,” Rebekah said. “It’s really nice. She can connect with anyone. I really admire that about her.”
“Also, her laugh sounds like a lawnmower,” Emily added with a smile.
She’s the one who is up before sunrise, ready to start a new day.
“She’s very proactive,” Rebekah said. “She likes to get involved.”
“She can randomly start a conversation,” Emily said.
“She never stops smiling,” Sarah said. “Even when she’s sad, she still smiles.”
Emily is the sister who makes sure things get done, according to Hannah.
“She’s really weird,” Rebekah said, but in a good way. “She’ll just do something weird, but it’s so funny. She just cheers you up.”
“She’s very caring,” Sarah said. Emily knows how to make other people happy.
“I’m a really bad storyteller,” Emily admits.
“Bekah is just really funny,” Sarah said. “She has a really good sense of humor. Bekah can make anyone laugh.”
“She’s very persistent,” Hannah said, noting that Rebekah is always pushing people to try the things she likes.
“I like K-pop so I’m trying to get them to like it, but it’s not working,” she said.