VISIT THE NEW LOCATION
The Office of Student and Family Transitions is hosting an open house from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday at its new location, rooms 142A and 142M inside the Nebraskan Student Union.
By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Think of Renae Zimmer and DJ Hardwick as the leaders of the University of Nebraska at Kearney’s welcoming committee.
As staff members in the Office of Student and Family Transitions, it’s their job to connect with incoming freshmen and transfer students and help them develop a sense of belonging that leads to long-term academic success.
“Our goal is to provide a seamless transition for students through programming, services and involvement opportunities on campus,” said Zimmer, the office’s assistant director. “We really want students to feel that welcoming atmosphere right out of the gate. We want to promote Loper pride.”
Formerly known as the First Year Program, the Office of Student and Family Transitions meets this mission through a variety of events and activities designed to keep students educated, engaged and entertained.
Two of the most popular are Blue and Gold Welcome Week in August and Welcome Home Week in January. These events include orientation sessions for new students and plenty of opportunities to learn more about UNK and the Kearney community. There are campus scavenger hunts, trips to Hilltop Mall and downtown businesses, concerts and tons of other fun activities.
Hardwick, a first-generation college student from Benkelman, has fond memories and close friendships that were created during Blue and Gold Welcome Week. He was able to meet other freshmen who were starting the same chapter in their lives and form an immediate bond.
“That was definitely a time when I was able to see that everyone was in the same boat – we’re all going through the same things right now,” Hardwick said. “It was a great event to kick off my college career.”
Now a junior studying business education, Hardwick serves as the student coordinator in the Office of Student and Family Transitions, which is located in rooms 142A and 142M inside the Nebraskan Student Union.
“My experiences at UNK have given me the insight to better prepare students and provide that inclusive, affirming and welcoming environment,” he said.
Zimmer refers to the office as a “one-stop shop” for campus resources. She and Hardwick work closely with other offices and departments on campus and will find the answer to any question – whether it’s about financial aid, housing, military and veterans services or any other topic.
“We field so many emails and phone calls from students who just don’t know where else to turn,” Hardwick said.
They’re also there to support parents and family members.
“I’m a parent. I’ve had two students go through college. I can speak to a parent about that college experience because I’ve been there,” said Zimmer, who wants families to view her as a “trusted resource” on campus. UNK’s Parent and Family Association is another resource she refers people to.
Part of the Division of Student Affairs, the Office of Student and Family Transitions also provides academic support and student involvement opportunities.
The Loper 2 Loper Mentoring Program pairs students with a faculty or staff member who helps guide them through their first year at UNK, and FIRST Leaders is a leadership-based student organization that focuses on service-learning activities both on and off campus.
First Adventure summer camp, a collaboration with Campus Recreation and Outdoor Adventures, gives incoming freshmen a chance to familiarize themselves with campus and the resources available here while forming relationships with fellow Lopers and developing their leadership skills. The camp also includes bonding time at an off-campus site. Students went to the Nebraska National Forest near Halsey in 2019, and this year’s trip is planned for Camp Comeca near Cozad.
The Office of Student and Family Transitions will work with students to identify other organizations that match their strengths and interests, as well.
“With over 150 student organizations on campus, we can find something for everyone,” Zimmer said.