By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Technically, Riley Cope no longer attends the University of Nebraska at Kearney.
But she’s still a Loper.
You’ll see her at many of this week’s homecoming events, from the opening pep rally on Monday evening through Saturday’s parade and home football game. It’s her favorite time of year on campus.
“Homecoming week is crazy,” Cope said with a smile. “My schedule can be a little insane, but it’s so much fun. I enjoy all of it.”
Like her parents, Mat and Amy, the bubbly blonde loves UNK.
Mat played football for the Lopers and graduated in 1999 with a degree in industrial distribution. He works for BigIron Auctions and operates Cope Ag Services. Amy also graduated from UNK in 1999 with a degree in organizational communication and a minor in marketing. She’s the membership director at Kearney Area Chamber of Commerce.
Four years ago, the couple was recognized during homecoming week with the Jim Rundstrom Distinguished Alumni Service Award for their ongoing support of the university through the Loper Gridiron Club, Loper Football Backers, UNK Alumni Association, Gold Torch Society and other areas.
“I obviously kind of grew up around UNK,” Cope said. “My parents are still huge supporters. All of my childhood has just been, ‘We’re UNK fans.’”
That made her college choice pretty easy.
Cope was already familiar with many aspects of Loper life, then she toured campus and learned more about the academic opportunities.
“That kind of opened my eyes to how great this school really is,” she said.
During her two years at UNK, Cope was part of the Kearney Health Opportunities Program (KHOP), a collaboration between UNK and the University of Nebraska Medical Center that provides academic and financial support for future health care professionals. Launched in 2010, the program addresses a statewide workforce need by recruiting and training students from rural Nebraska who remain in these areas to practice.
Among the many benefits, KHOP members get the chance to connect with UNMC faculty earlier in their academic careers, tour medical facilities and meet with various health care providers, allowing them to explore different career paths and create professional networks.
“I learned a lot of things through KHOP and had a lot of great opportunities to get connected with people in the community and other students in the program,” Cope said.
Those experiences prepared her for the transition to UNMC, where she’s currently studying radiography. Because of the longstanding and ever-expanding partnership between UNK and UNMC, Cope can complete her professional school training without leaving Kearney.
All of her classes are at the Health Science Education Complex at UNK, allowing her to remain active on campus.
Cope is a member of the Alpha Phi sorority and UNK Sapphires Dance Team, which explains her busy homecoming week schedule.
She made a “last-minute decision” to go through sorority recruitment as a freshman and it completely changed her college experience.
“I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I didn’t go through it, just because of all the people I’ve met and all the connections I’ve made at UNK and throughout the community,” she said. “I feel like I wouldn’t be as involved if I didn’t step outside my comfort zone and join a sorority. It’s helped me grow a lot in the past couple years.”
There was never any doubt that she wanted to continue dancing in college.
“That was a big reason for choosing UNK, too,” said Cope, who joined a local studio at age 3 and started dancing competitively in middle school.
She was a member of the Dance Catz at Kearney High School and currently serves as an assistant coach for the team. Cope also teaches classes at PowerHouse Dance Academy in Kearney and she’s choreographed routines for Amherst and Pleasanton high schools. During the summer, she travels to camps across the country as an instructor for the Universal Dance Association.
“I find a lot of enjoyment in it,” she said of dance. “It’s kind of like a safe place for me, a place where I can be myself and be with my friends.”
Cope and the other UNK Sapphires will perform during Thursday evening’s homecoming lip-sync contest and at halftime of the football game against Northwest Missouri State. On top of that, she choreographed the lip-sync routine for Alpha Phi, Phi Delta Theta and Sigma Lambda Gamma.
Cope called the UNK dance team a “great support system.”
“They’re like my second family,” she said. “It’s just a positive environment where everyone is rooting for everybody. We all get along really well.”
There are a couple other family members who will certainly be cheering her on this week, as well.
“I think it’s really cool that both of my parents went here, I grew up here and now I get to be part of it,” Cope said. “I get to leave my own mark on UNK instead of just seeing what they did here and what they still do for UNK. It’s really cool that I’m a Loper now, too – having that connection to them but now I get to do my own things.”