By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Team Concepts wasn’t at the top of Jacob Nutter’s list of potential employers.
The University of Nebraska at Kearney student had heard of the local business, which specializes in team-building and leadership training, but he didn’t know much about its services.
That changed when Nutter met Team Concepts owner Josh Erickson through NEXT, a business leadership program launched last year by UNK’s College of Business and Technology and Kearney Area Chamber of Commerce.
Erickson was looking for a part-time marketing director to promote the business online. Nutter, a senior from Geneva studying computer science, was the perfect candidate.
Team Concepts hired Nutter last semester and he’s been working for the business ever since.
“It’s a really cool company,” Nutter said. “It’s been fun working for them.”
The 21-year-old credits the NEXT program for creating this opportunity.
“Networking is big for a college student,” he said. “Establishing those connections helps get your foot in the door.”
Through NEXT, Nutter and a dozen other UNK students explored job opportunities in the Kearney area while developing their leadership and professional skills.
The 2018-19 group toured Kearney Regional Medical Center, software development company Xpanxion, Younes Conference Center and BluePrint Engines, a high-performance crate and marine engine manufacturer. They also attended chamber of commerce meetings and met with business professionals from a number of industries.
One of the program’s goals is to expose UNK students to local career options with hopes of keeping more of them in the Kearney area after graduation.
“I don’t think a lot of people realize how much Kearney has to offer,” said Nutter, who recommends the NEXT program for students interested in learning more about the community and its businesses.
The free program, which is open to students studying any major within the College of Business and Technology, runs from September through April with participants meeting once a month for two hours.
Because participants come from a variety of academic programs, one of the challenges is creating an itinerary that covers everyone’s interests. Moving forward, NEXT organizers plan to use input from students when deciding which businesses to feature.
“We want to make it customizable so the program really aligns with students’ career interests,” said Dustin Favinger, director of the College of Business and Technology Career Center.
Another change is the addition of peer mentors – students who completed NEXT and return the following year to serve as volunteer assistants. In 2019-20, Tia Love of Alliance and Harrison Webb of Grand Island will serve as mentors.
Favinger also hopes to introduce case study analyses that give students the opportunity to investigate real-world problems at the businesses they tour and offer solutions.
“We want the students to have more ownership while providing additional value for employers,” he said.
Ultimately, the program’s mission is to connect UNK students with local businesses and community leaders and show them the different career paths they can take with their degree. Of the six UNK graduates who participated in the inaugural NEXT class, five have full-time jobs now and one is pursuing a master’s degree.
“If students want multiple job offers before graduation, it begins with an internship or some kind of experiential learning component, in addition to academics,” Favinger said. “A great way to get that experiential piece is to step outside your comfort zone and network with employers and community members. Participating in this program allows students to do that.”
The signup deadline for the 2019-20 NEXT program is Aug. 30. For more information, contact Favinger at 308-865-8066 or firstname.lastname@example.org.