“I know a lot of people who have come to UNK and blossomed in ways they didn’t really think they would.” – Sarah Petersen
By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Sarah Petersen wasn’t sure what to expect when she visited the University of Nebraska at Kearney for the first time.
The Omaha native didn’t know much about UNK and Kearney, except that she’d be traveling 2 1/2 hours away from home to a part of the state many residents of Nebraska’s largest city are unfamiliar with.
“I was worried there would be nothing here,” Petersen said. “I thought it was just going to be a school and fields.”
Boy, was she in for a surprise.
What she discovered was a vibrant, welcoming community with big-city amenities and small-town charm. It didn’t take Petersen long to realize UNK was the perfect place to be.
“When I came on my visit, I saw students interacting with professionals and professors. It was really cool because everyone knew each other by name, and that’s something I really didn’t experience in high school because I went to a really big school,” the Millard West graduate said. “I knew this would be a place where people would know me, and I would know people all around campus.”
With support and encouragement from her fellow Lopers, the 22-year-old communication disorders major was able to branch out, explore new interests and become a better version of herself.
Now Petersen is a captain on the cheer squad, a member of the Alpha Phi sorority and a leader in the Greek community, serving as president of the Panhellenic Council. She’s also an Honors Program student and an active participant in Christian Student Fellowship.
“One of my favorite things about UNK is being able to get involved with anything I want to,” Petersen said. “I know a lot of people who have come to UNK and blossomed in ways they didn’t really think they would.”
Sam Morris, a UNK senior from Lincoln, also learned there’s nothing boring about being a Loper.
“If you come here, you’re always involved in something, whether it’s sports or another extracurricular activity,” he said. “They make sure everyone is involved. That’s what I really like about UNK. They make people feel like they’re at home.”
UNK has dozens of student organizations, from sororities and fraternities to multicultural groups to academic clubs, as well as intramural sports, NCAA Division II athletics, theater productions and top-notch bands and choirs.
No matter what your interests are, there’s a place for you at UNK.
“UNK treats people like a family,” said Morris, who plays for the Loper men’s basketball team. “It’s like a brotherhood to me. That really captured my attention because I knew I would feel safe here and be comfortable here.”
The same can be said about the Kearney community and its 34,000 residents.
“It’s a great city,” said Morris, a business administration major with a minor in sports management. “It’s not too big, but it’s also not too small, so transitioning here from Lincoln was easy for me.”
“It wasn’t so much going somewhere two hours away, it was finding someplace where I could feel comfortable,” the 21-year-old added. “That was a big selling point. I’m not too far from home, but I also have some independence.”
MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE
Nearly 20 percent of UNK’s students come from the Omaha and Lincoln metropolitan areas, according to 2018-19 enrollment figures, and they find Kearney life is pretty dang good.
“It’s a smaller city, but it’s a fun place to be,” said Sarah Petersen, a UNK senior from Omaha. “There’s plenty to do here.”
In addition to being a “supportive and caring” community, according to Petersen, Kearney provides numerous entertainment, shopping and dining options.
The city boasts both unique and nationally known retail stores, three movie theaters, restaurants that can satisfy any taste and breweries where you can unwind.
The Viaero Center is home to the Tri-City Storm hockey team, you can catch a band or comedian in the downtown district and big-time concerts are always on the calendar, including recent acts such as Brantley Gilbert, AJR, Josh Turner, Midland and Chris Janson.
Looking for something more outdoorsy?
Kearney residents enjoy scenic parks with fishing and camping, an extensive recreational trail system, challenging golf courses and a water trail that’s perfect for kayaking or a relaxing float.
On campus, the new Early Childhood Education Center will open in November and a state-of-the-art STEM facility is scheduled for completion next spring. Village Flats, a modern, apartment-style housing complex, is part of the University Village development that will feature academic facilities, retail spaces, recreational amenities, restaurants and housing, and UNK is home to UNMC’s Health Science Education Complex, where many of the state’s future health care workers will receive their education.