By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – The University of Nebraska at Kearney is the perfect fit for Briana Marquez.
She likes the smaller, tightknit community, but also enjoys all the activities, events and opportunities to connect with students from around the world.
“I really like that you kind of know everybody at UNK, but you’re always meeting somebody new,” she said. “It’s kind of like that perfect medium.”
Those interactions with fellow Lopers are an important part of her college experience.
Marquez knows we can learn a lot from each other by creating connections with people from different countries, cultures, backgrounds and belief systems.
“Nowadays, politics are very left or right, black and white. But a lot of the world isn’t like that,” she said. “It’s somewhere in the middle. There isn’t one right answer. There are multiple. And instead of fighting, we can learn.
“That’s the beautiful thing about a college campus, you get people from all sorts of backgrounds, all sorts of ways of thinking, and it’s a really cool thing when you see them come together.”
A sophomore from Columbus, Marquez enjoys meeting international students during events such as the weekly Conversation Tables and she’s also heavily involved through the Office for Intercultural Engagement and Leadership (IEL).
That office, led by Director Luis Olivas, was another selling point during her college decision-making process.
“The amount of dedication they put into their students, I didn’t see that anywhere else,” Marquez said. “I feel like you don’t get that sense of caring from other colleges, and here you do. They make sure you know that they’re here for you and to help you succeed. The IEL program here is amazing and really does make a difference in students’ lives.”
Marquez started attending Intercultural Engagement and Leadership events during her first semester on campus, allowing her to quickly develop relationships with other students. She joined Women Are Problematic (WAP), an organization that focuses on women’s rights and female empowerment, and the Hispanic Student Association (HSA), then became that group’s president the following semester.
Olivas calls Marquez a natural leader, trailblazer and true ambassador for UNK students, particularly those from underrepresented communities.
“Briana understands the experience as a first-generation Latina student, and she enjoys being able to bring others along to help educate and create interest via her own story of self,” he said. “She is immensely proud of her culture and background, and is always willing to share that with others.”
At UNK, where Hispanic students represent 13% of the total enrollment, organizations like HSA have a significant impact.
“I think it’s important because sometimes when you have these minority groups, it’s really easy to feel like you don’t belong. And it’s really easy to have that impostor syndrome and be like, ‘Oh man, I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t belong here. I should just go home,’” Marquez said. “Organizations like HSA, WAP, BSA (Black Student Association) and First Gen Lopers provide motivation and reassurance for students by saying, ‘Hey, you got this. You’re here because you deserve it. And you’re not going anywhere.’ That’s the kind of impact they have on students.”
The Hispanic Student Association meets at 5 p.m. every Wednesday in the Office for Intercultural Engagement and Leadership, located on the east end of the Nebraskan Student Union’s main floor. About 35-40 students attend each meeting, where they network, discuss a variety of topics and plan events such as the annual Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration on campus.
“This is a great place to meet other people who might have the same experiences as you, who might have the same ideas as you, who might have the same feelings as you,” said Marquez, referring to the organization as a “home away from home” for many of its members.
It’s also a great place to learn and teach, she added, since HSA is open to any UNK student.
“Hispanics are a big part of the United States,” she said. “Whether you’re a business major or a future health care provider, being able to connect with people who are different from you is something you’re going to need to do in your job. This group provides a great opportunity to do that – to learn more about someone and make connections with people regardless of their background. And I think that’s a great skill to have.”
As president, Marquez plans to extend HSA into the community, bringing UNK students and local professionals together to discuss issues and share success stories. Joined by Olivas and three other Lopers, she traveled to Lincoln to be part of the Hispanic Heritage Month proclamation ceremony at the State Capitol and meet representatives from the Nebraska Commission on Latino-Americans.
“I feel like HSA has been stuck in this little corner of campus,” Marquez said. “Now, we’re trying to be more of a driving force to make it known throughout the community and ensure students’ voices are heard.”
In addition to her involvement with the Hispanic Student Association and Office for Intercultural Engagement and Leadership, Marquez is part of the Health Science Club, Spanish Club, Alpha Mu Gamma foreign language honor society and Thompson Scholars Learning Community (TSLC).
Available to all recipients of the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation Scholarship, TSLC provides academic and social support during the transition to college. Thompson Scholars live together, take classes together and attend the same community events. They also receive guidance and assistance from TSLC staff and peer mentors.
“I could sit here all day and preach about how lucky I am to be involved in that program,” said Marquez, who also received the full-tuition Board of Regents Scholarship. “I think every Thompson Scholar will say they love being part of this community. It’s an impactful program, and the people there really do become your second family.”
As a sophomore, Marquez now serves as a mentor for first-year students. It’s the perfect role for someone Hunter Love describes as focused, hardworking, kind and compassionate.
“As her mentor supervisor in the Thompson Scholars Learning Community, I have a front-row seat in seeing how well she works with her mentees and how she wants to see them be successful. Giving back to this community is very important to her,” said Love, the program’s assistant director of student development.
Marquez is just as dedicated to her own academics. She’s double majoring in Spanish translation and interpretation and biology with a health science emphasis, with plans to attend dental school after graduation.
Her ultimate goal is to open her own practice as a bilingual provider.
“I really like the idea of people smiling,” Marquez said. “I think everyone should be able to feel like they can smile.”