By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Jolissa Klein is excited about college.
She’s only in fourth grade, but the Elm Creek Elementary student already knows she wants to be a nurse, just like her mother.
“I want to help people,” she said.
Klein, who “really likes learning,” got a taste of college life Monday during the 26th annual Early Awareness Day hosted by the University of Nebraska at Kearney. The event, co-sponsored by EducationQuest Foundation and UNK’s Office of Financial Aid, brought 73 fourth graders from Amherst, Axtell, Elm Creek and Pleasanton to campus to learn more about the university, explore potential careers and have a little fun.
The goal, according to UNK financial aid counselor and event coordinator Kristina Artz, is to spark an interest in higher education early on so students start thinking about their passions and how UNK can help them in the future.
“We want to get them here early so they can see everything UNK has to offer and start visualizing themselves on campus,” Artz said. “It’s not a big, scary place. It’s an exciting place with all sorts of fun and educational things happening.”
Shane Nordby, a fourth-grade teacher at Pleasanton Public Schools, believes it’s never too early for students to start thinking about college and career options.
“It’s a chance for them to see what’s out there,” Nordby said of Monday’s event. “Some kids don’t have an idea of what’s available as far as jobs and school opportunities.”
Early Awareness Day started with a welcome message from Chancellor Doug Kristensen, who shared some information about UNK and the University of Nebraska system before teaching the elementary students how to “throw the Lopes.” Then the fourth graders split into groups to tour a residence hall, take in a show at the planetarium and participate in a career exploration activity led by education majors from UNK’s Teachers Scholars Academy.
Rhonda Hoyt, a K-12 guidance counselor at Axtell Community School, said events like Early Awareness Day help students see the value in education and how it can benefit them.
Once a student starts thinking about what they want to be when they grow up, “we can use that to talk about what it takes to get there,” she said. “That opens the door for other conversations.”
Like any good elementary field trip, Early Awareness Day also had its playful moments. The fourth graders met UNK’s mascot, Louie the Loper, for class photos and ate lunch in Cushing Coliseum before joining UNK student-athletes for some activities at Cope Stadium. Each elementary student also received a free pass for two people to attend a UNK home soccer match.
“This is a great opportunity for our student-athletes and coaches to build that connection with the surrounding communities,” UNK Athletic Director Marc Bauer said while assisting with the games.
At the end of the day, Klein gave her official opinion of UNK before boarding a bus headed back to Elm Creek.
“I like it,” she said with a smile.