By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Makenzie Petersen isn’t afraid to step outside her comfort zone.
The 20-year-old has always been a go-getter on the lookout for new challenges and opportunities.
That’s what brought her to the University of Nebraska at Kearney.
Petersen, who came to campus for honor choir and state speech events during high school, knew UNK was the right fit long before she scheduled an official visit as a senior.
“There wasn’t another option,” Petersen said. “I didn’t want there to be another option. I just wanted to go to UNK.”
A native of O’Neill – a community of about 3,600 residents located nearly three hours north of Kearney – Petersen was looking for a university where she could meet new people and try new things. She also wanted to take on leadership roles and stand out from the crowd.
“I could make a name for myself here,” Petersen said.
And she’s done exactly that.
The UNK junior – known around campus as “Mak P” – serves as an unofficial ambassador for the university, using her bubbly personality, witty sense of humor and love of all things Loper to connect with others.
“Mak P is one of the most over-the-top, sarcastic, but also genuine students I’ve had the pleasure of working with during my time at UNK. She walks into a room and wants to put a smile on everyone’s face,” said Brad Green, associate director of undergraduate recruitment and admissions.
Green and Brette Ensz, assistant director of UNK’s First Year Program, worked with Petersen last summer during New Student Enrollment (NSE), when incoming freshmen and their families come to UNK to learn about services, meet with faculty and staff and register for classes. Petersen was one of eight returning students selected to serve as New Student Enrollment leaders, a welcoming committee that ensures new Lopers have a positive experience while they’re on campus.
“Mak P wants every student she interacts with to feel like UNK is their home,” Green said. “She’d find the quietest person in the room and engage with them because she wanted them to enjoy their NSE experience as much as everyone else. She’s the epitome of what we should all strive to be like in our daily lives.”
Ensz noticed the same traits in Petersen, who she described as funny and professional, “with a little bit of sass.”
“Mak P was one of those leaders who could make a connection with any parent or student,” Ensz said. “As a first-generation student, she was especially talented at working with students who were coming in with little knowledge about college. She was able to make those students feel comfortable and was always willing to spend extra time with them.”
Petersen, who received the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation Scholarship, has been making a positive impact since she arrived at UNK.
The 7-12 language arts education major has been an officer with Thompson Scholars United and she’s in her second year as a resident assistant in Mantor Hall, where she helps first-year students transition to college life.
“It’s the perfect role for me,” Petersen said of the RA position that brings her “so much fulfillment.”
She loves to see her fellow Lopers overcome the obstacles that stand between them and success.
“It makes me super happy when I’m able to show them they can do something they didn’t think they could do,” she said.
In addition to her RA and NSE duties, Petersen is active with Christian Student Fellowship and she serves on a student recruitment committee through UNK’s Division of Enrollment Management and Marketing. She’s also a senior adviser for the Phi Eta Sigma freshman honor society, a researcher in the Undergraduate Research Fellows program and president of the Secondary Educators Club.
Her adviser, assistant English professor Amanda Sladek, said Petersen immediately stood out as a leader in the classroom.
“Not only does she always do outstanding work, she helps everybody around her do their best work, as well,” Sladek said.
A dean’s list student and Sigma Tau Delta honor society member, Petersen has a perfect 4.0 GPA, proving she has the intelligence to match her personality.
“Makenzie has this way of engaging people, making them laugh, and creating a really comfortable environment wherever she is,” Sladek said.
Her popularity was apparent earlier this month, when Petersen was named UNK’s homecoming queen. Her best friend, Jacob Roth of Milford, was crowned homecoming king.
“It was really awesome to feel the support from all the people around me,” Petersen said. “The moment was even more special because I got to share it with Jacob.”
Petersen, who has a public law minor, isn’t sure where life will take her after UNK, but one thing is certain.
“The qualities she possesses are going to make her successful at anything she ends up pursuing,” Sladek said.